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Leadership Lessons from Zags basketball

March 11, 2015

I have gathered the following leadership lessons building upon Reid Forgrave’s excellent article “It Zagged: Gonzaga took unique path to sustained success.”

1A. The most obvious point – so obvious I missed it in my initial post – you must win. You do not need to be world champions… or even make the Final Four… but at some point, a basketball program is built so that a basketball team wins games. They win more games than they lose. Again, the next seven things need to be part of the formula, but if they are part of the formula and you do not win games, you will not actually be/come a successful program.

1. You need a plan – Athletic Director Mike Roth had a plan for Zags basketball become something when he started as Athletic Director.

2. You need a key person – Early on, Roth realized the incredible assistant coach, Mark Few, would be key to building a long-term and sustainable program and made sure he did not get away. However, as Few points out at the end of the article, it is always about the team, never the individual (player or coach).

3. They risked embarassment for the sake of opportunity – Forgrave’s article refers to the decision to schedule games against more difficult schools, even at the risk of losing, because it meant better competition and that they would be able to recruit better players if they were playing top teams.

4. They spent money – Again, Forgrave’s article refers to the decision Gonzaga made to initially pay money ($20,000) to a regional sports network to televise their games… at a time when their budget was minimal.

5. Time – There is no substitute for time. It has taken time for the program to go from the Cinderalla story to a top-ranked program. While there has been continuity in the key leadership and their is a succession plan in place, to develop a program that will be sustainable takes time.

6. Fit – Forgrave points out that the Gonzaga Model works partly because of the type of city Gonzaga is situated (Spokane, WA). Simply put, such a plan model may not have “worked” at other schools in other college towns because it would not have been a fit.

7. Unintended Benefits – not only has the basketball team succeeded, but school enrollment, major gifts, etc have increased because of the basketball teams’ success. When success touches one area of an organization, others benefit.

Here’s hoping the Zags make it to the FInal Four! (and face another great leader in Mike Krzyzewski & the Duke Blue Devils)

Postscripts: Congrats to Gonzaga and coach Mark Few for making it to the Regional Final where hey did face Duke. Unfortunately, the Blue Devils won and Coach K will now lead the team to its 12th Final Four under his guidance.

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