The intersection of sports and business

This article originally appeared on

The ball is in our court. They keep moving the goalposts. That project was a home run. Most of us are familiar with these sports references as they often bleed into our professional lives. As a leader, they might resonate even more since you’re directly responsible for rallying the team.

In over 20 years of covering sports, I have observed plenty of good and bad teams. My intimate role as the play-by-play voice of Davidson men’s basketball mixed with business ownership has revealed something that should have been obvious: Successful athletic programs often share the same winning characteristics of strong businesses.

With that in mind, here are five things that apply to both sports and leading a business.


Members of successful teams are held to a higher standard because their performance directly impacts everyone else. After all, games/deals are won and lost based on individual performance. If individuals fail to perform their responsibilities, productivity and seamless delivery will be affected.

Accountability is one key to making sure each team member stays focused and consistent in supporting big-picture goals. Showing up on time matters. In addition, bringing positive energy and constructive ideas is contagious.


Communication is a part of every leadership discussion. The reality is that communication is something we must always make a priority. Furthermore, miscommunication is often the culprit of breakdowns in processes, misdirected energy and much anxiety.

On a basketball court, players are constantly communicating. Whether it’s a play call or a switch on defense, constant chatter directly translates into on-court success. The failure to do so can lead to poor performance and potential injury. In the business setting, a lack of healthy communication can lead to resentment and unhealthy relationships. Not to mention, a lack of productivity.

There’s more than one way

We all approach and carry out comparable tasks in a slightly different way. The “my way or the highway” mentality has never worked well for inspiring future leaders and preserving culture. For example, video editors may vary in the way they assemble a video on their digital timeline or the process they undertake to get to a finished product. The difference in steps doesn’t matter as long as efficiency remains and the end product sings. Remain open to different paths that get to the same destination.


We should all be able to recall a coach or teacher who left an indelible mark on our life. I have certainly been fortunate on that front. We don’t always realize the value of these mentors in the moment because they’re constantly pushing us to accomplish more. The reason is that they see potential that we are struggling to access.

Your team and employees need someone who imitates a coach. A successful coach understands the system and aligns that system with the right talent. Above all, they care about the people whom they are responsible for leading. Individuals need a selfless leader who’s focused on the success of others.

Work for your people

I came across a recent tweet from author and speaker Simon Sinek that really drives this point home. He said, “A poor leader will tell you how many people work for them. A great leader will tell you how many people they work for.” If only we could live this out consistently, we could change the world. Well, maybe not the world, but certainly the lives of those in our direct sphere of influence. We must change our motivation to the following: What can I do for you to help you succeed? When they win, you win.

Let go

Leadership is not easy and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. You have the privilege of making decisions that impact the lives of individuals and families, overall happiness, career achievement, etc. Sometimes the toughest thing to do is allow people to push ideas forward on their own. Failure is always an option and sometimes a probable outcome. Allowing people to fail in the right scenarios is a must. We learn the most when we experience discomfort and disappointment. Create a teaching moment. Assess the risk and let go.

In closing

As mentioned above, leadership is challenging. Selflessness and humility are two prerequisites for success. On the flip side, you should be selfish about continued learning, constant self-evaluation and a strong belief in what’s possible. Stop thinking you need to have all the answers and get to work for your people.



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