Are your brackets busted? Well, if they are (and I think most of them are), you can still learn about leadership from the NCAA basketball tournament, from 30 years ago. I was watching an ESPN documentary called “Survive and Advance” that looked back at the Cinderella story and 30-year anniversary of the improbable championship of the NC State Wolfpack basketball team, and their head coach, Jim Valvano. In the video, I detail a few things that resonated with me watching that documentary that I think can help leaders in all walks of life.

  • Leaders need a vision – One practice each year, Coach Valvano held one practice where his players would practice how to celebrate WHEN they won the championship – not if, WHEN. And as the players kept winning that year in 1983, they could see his vision, and feel his vision.
  • Leaders need to connect with their followers – Coach Valvano invited his players into his office just to talk about anything. He understood the value of connection.
  • Leaders don’t just teach, they learn from their followers– At a 10-year reunion of the championship team, Coach Valvano told the crowd that the 1983 team taught him the following 4 things, and that when these 4 things happen, you can accomplish miracles:
    • Hope – things will get better despite adversity
    • Dreaming – nothing will happen without a dream
    • Persistence – don’t give up, don’t ever give up
    • Love – love each other

It was very touching to hear that impromptu speech at the 10-year reunion – Valvano was dying from cancer, and everyone knew it as well. It echoed the stirring speech from the ESPY awards (one that personally changed my life when I listened to it as an impressionable high schooler at home in Chattanooga TN, and that speech still lives with me to this day). Hear the speech here, it can make you a better leader, and more importantly, a better person.

Enjoy the rest of March Madness 2013, and think of the leadership lessons you can learn from this year’s basketball tournament, and maybe one from 30 years ago.


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