Guest post by Aaron Veldheer of Intersport
On Monday I played in our weekly pickup basketball game at a Park District gym near the United Center. The players are skilled and each is a few years younger than I, but the competition, camaraderie and intense physical exertion bring me back each week, regardless of a recent spate of knee (tendonitis), wrist (sprain) and finger (dislocation) injuries.
This particular week I was teamed with an underdog squad. We were slightly slower, shorter, and less skilled at each position. On paper, we should have been beaten soundly.
But we won … by a lot. We played solid defense, we communicated well and we made our shots. As I thought about it more, however, I realized that running good offense made us different than our competitors.
So what does it mean to “run good offense”? And what does that mean for our own teams off the court, in business?
Team Goals First and Only
Every player must understand the team goals and push aside their own for a common purpose. It is just as important to trust that your teammates also understand and prioritize in favor of the team. After just one selfish play, the other players fall like dominoes into bad habits, pursuing their own form of “me”-focused goals.
By the way, that doesn’t require a Hoosier-style, Gene Hackman-led, four passes minimum offense. If a good shooter is open in the flow of the game, he or she must shoot. Passing up a good open shot to demonstrate selflessness is as much a sign that a player doesn’t understand the team goals as a player who over-dribbles, passes infrequently and shoots nearly every time.
It’s amazing the difference a coach makes. In our pickup games, where we have no coach, team-first trust frequently breaks down. We are all good people – not a bad apple in the group – but that doesn’t mean we’re not human. Well-coached teams, however, are a thing of beauty. The best coaches have instilled this principle in practice so many times that it can be executed to perfection in the game. But even when a problem does arise, the coach calls a timeout and easily redirects his or her team back to a team-first path, leaving the “me”-first mentality behind. Great leaders know it’s not about them. It’s about the team.
Management leadership can have a similarly profound effect. Leaders can take an underdog team, one that is less experienced, even less talented, and make them winners. By communicating the team vision and strategy, the team goals and constantly monitoring progress of the team, the team can accomplish things that a collection of individuals never could.
Process Over Results
Focus on the process, not the result. In our game, there are no refs, no scorekeepers and no scoreboards. We keep score ourselves and announce it at each dead ball. I’ve found a positive correlation between my team’s performance and our inability to call out an accurate score. It’s the beautiful feeling of being deeply immersed in an intense competition – and blocking out everything else. We know that our all-important goal is to score 50 points before the other team by scoring on offense and preventing scores on defense.
To focus on those simple goals requires removing all other distractions. Catch the ball ready to shoot, make each pass crisply and hustle for an offensive rebound. Do those kinds of things every possession and the results must follow. Be consistent. (If you’re in sales, recognize the limits you place on your own productivity–and then overcome them.)
There is an age-old debate about which matters most in business, process or results. I’ve often heard that results are all that matter. Plus, they are easier to measure relative to more subjective elements of the process. In my opinion, these arguments are made by lazy or ignorant managers who are unwilling to understand and dig into the repeatable process elements that lead to results.
Certainly, the goal is to achieve results. That is undisputable. The real question, however, is how to best achieve those results. Good managers recognize that results aren’t magic; that they come from attention to the infinite number of details along the way. He or she will have gleaned the important parts of the process so that he/she knows when to call a timeout and what issue to address during that brief coach-player huddle.
Use Patience & Poise to Organize Fast-Paced Chaos
I enjoy playing nearly every sport. I’ve often wondered why basketball became my favorite. Among all sports that could have paid my way through college, basketball may have been the least likely. But I simply loved the constant movement and the split-second decision-making.
For those reasons, basketball favors athletic and skilled players. For the greatest players, however, the game actually slows down. They are able to identify a match-up advantage and finesse a fast-break pass when others can only react. They convert unconscious reaction to deliberate pro-action. (The folks at Sales Engine like to call this proactive pursuit.)
In the real world, this happens all the time. The people we consider superstars are able to weed through the overwhelming noise and see their next move clearly, as if their competition is moving in slow-motion. The great performers can take a brief pause to think critically and strategically without losing any momentum.
Managers can help their performers develop the skill and discipline to pause to think amid chaos and all the “doing”. Managers need to exhibit the discipline of staying calm, so their teams can do the same. The best way to make this a habit is to identify common events that can trigger a pause. In sales, for example, there are many stages in the sales process. Moving from one stage to the next is an appropriate and easily triggered time to pause and think critically–and successful salespeople know how to do this efficiently and effectively.
Leaders can run good offense and lead their teams to score more points by putting team goals first, emphasizing the process before the results, and using patience to organize “good chaos”.
If your company wants to score points, then running good offense is critical. In a business world of sports clichés, running good offense may sound like the simplest of the bunch. Certainly more than completing the Hail Mary pass. But uncovering the elements of good offense, and converting them to practice, takes focus and discipline.
Aaron Veldheer has been a leader and an agent of change throughout his life and his career. Most recently, Aaron restructured and led Chicago-based Intersport’s sales team to record sales as Chief Revenue Officer. As an NFL Certified Contract Advisor, Aaron negotiated a $37.5 million deal in 2014 free agency for his client, one of the NFL’s top emerging left tackles. Aaron’s passion for leading, deal-making and entrepreneurship has come from his many business-related experiences over the past twenty years, whether as a corporate attorney in the Chicago loop, an investment manager at Goldman Sachs or while leading a true “turnaround” as the point guard and three-year captain of the basketball team at Hillsdale College.