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Make NBA Championship magic on your team

I’m finally watching The Last Dance, the documentary of Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls. In addition to having a phenomenal soundtrack, it’s a great insight on coaching and motivation.

In episode 3, Pistons head coach Chuck Daly says to an assistant coach, “You don’t put a saddle on a mustang.” He’s referencing the way to (and not to) coach Pistons forward Dennis Rodman. Like a mustang, Rodman was wild and tough to tame; more beautiful and gifted in his natural state.

Daly understood the unique gifts that Rodman brought to the Pistons and that they outweighed the challenge of incorporating a different style into the rest of the team’s play. Like saddling a mustang, trying to fit Rodman into the typical expectations for a forward on their team would break his spirit. And Rodman’s spirit is what gave him an edge.

This illustrates an important concept for managers. So many of my clients have been there – square pegs that managers are desperately trying to fit into round holes. It’s frustrating and unmotivating to be treated that way, like if you don’t do the “X project” the “Y way,” you’re useless to the team. It’s also exhausting for managers to keep running that play, and perhaps not leveraging the team’s full potential.

As a manager, what can you do? How can you make NBA Championship magic happen on your team?

Know each team member’s strengths. Get to know your team members and their unique strengths. Take the Gallup StrengthsFinder assessment,* learn about your strengths and those of each member of your team, and then think about how you can leverage their strengths in the work you do. You may be surprised about the strengths you are not even aware of and that could take your team’s work to the next level.

Get clear on your mission and communicate it. What is your team’s overall mission? If you don’t have a mission statement, work with a coach to write one. Your mission statement will serve as your plan for where you want your team to go together. It is essential to have everyone clear on this destination.

Build trust. Communicate and be transparent with your team. As a manager, help your teammates understand where you are looking to take the team and how you are depending on them to help you get there. Be vulnerable about not always having the right answers, but confident in your goal to help the team be its best. LISTEN to your teammates.

Give it time. Like with anything, you’re not going to feel like you’re winning the NBA Championships every day. Make smaller goals for your team to work toward and schedule regular check-ins with your team members. Consider working with a coach to keep yourself on track to accomplish your goals and to stay motivated.

*The StrengthsFinder assessment has been around for several decades and in that time, almost 25 million people have taken it. Your results will help you understand your strengths and how you can better leverage them, instead of focusing on your weaknesses, like so many of us are prone to do. It will also help you better understand the unique gifts you bring to your team. Please reach out to me at if you’re like to talk about using the StrengthsFinder assessment on your own or with your team.

Photo by Sara Cottle on Unsplashed

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