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How Leadership is Personal

December 13, 2013 2 comments

I attended a manager’s training program this week that my company organized. To be honest, I thought I would not encounter many new things, as I have participated in similar programs in the past already. I was wrong. One of the modules centered on leadership. I learned about improving leadership skills and effectiveness by focusing on specific leadership aspects. What resonated to me personally were the personal, relational and inspirational aspects of leadership that I often overlook. It helped that one of our program facilitators who shared about leadership, a seasoned HR director leader himself, gave personal stories from his own experiences that allowed me to see leadership through those aspects and ponder my own realization.

Personal Leadership

“I do not like that man. I must get to know him better.” – Abraham Lincoln

“Leadership is personal”, our facilitator passionately said and repeated. He took his statement to heart when he shared a lot of personal accounts about himself in the office and at home (about family) to demonstrate the personal dimension of leadership. I thought it was brilliant and the only way to bring the message across with effectiveness. What I learned is that— leadership is personal. It starts and ends with people following you because you are credible and you gained their trust. I have worked with the same boss since 2004, when I was assigned to participate in a business integration project in Europe. It is kind of strange how I call my boss and how he calls me—“my friend”. Because of working together for so long, you gained that level of trust and relationship.  I see him as my personal leader and probably one of the reasons why I have been working in the same company for about 15 years now.  Personal Leadership is about developing and projecting your leadership capability; being real; and demonstrating dedication. He embodies that. Personal leadership is the best way to gain credibility, loyalty and trust. As a leader you gain trust by demonstrating concern and understanding.

Ralational and Inspirational Leadership

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Nelson Mandela

“Leadership is like a contact sport”, our HR Director facilitator asserted in one of our discussions. He gave a lot of references to professional and collegiate sports, as to how coaches, as leaders, motivate and inspire their players and teams to achieve the best. I learned that leadership aspiration is not always about winning that championship trophy at the end of a tournament. It is about the inspiration and the motivation to have given the best effort possible—to leave every sweat and blood on the court. Our instructor showed us a 10 year old video, where NBA coach Mo Cheeks, then coach of the Portland Trailblazer, gave Natalie Gilbert a little help singing the national anthem. There is an American awareness for great performances of the National Anthem at sporting events. But for sheer inspirational impact, it’s hard to top what happened on April 27, 2003. This is a story of leadership, an example of humility, compassion and humanity. A tale of how one man, who decided in a few seconds, to help a girl sing the national anthem and inspiring millions by doing so.

What Mo Cheeks did expressed sentiments in the kind of message about leadership sports like basketball conveys. I think leadership has less to do with authority, punishment, rewards, and more to do with credibility, trust, empathy and love. If you think about it, if you have a professional career spanning 15 years or more (like me), the leaders who have motivated and inspired you, are the ones who made the most personal connection with you.  There is vast untapped potential within organizations and communities to collectively perform at a level substantially greater when they have the right leadership. How can I consistently bring the best in my people? The answer is having an engaged team. How can you have an engaged team? Start with personal leadership.

Project Management Lessons from the Olympics Games

I have always been fascinated about how developed countries excel in the Olympics. In the recently concluded summer games in London, 6 countries from G8 were in the top ten of the medal standings. Do countries’ economies have anything to do with how their athletes fair in games? Absolutely! How?

Allow me to use some project management concepts to explain.

Portfolio Management – Strategy in Sports and Funding

Obviously, developed countries have more resources, i.e. money, to invest in sports development and therefore, more and better sports programs translate to more chances of success. The U.S. Olympic Committee shelled out close to $250 million in 2008 to help American athletes win 110 medals in Beijing. That is a huge investment in a national sports program (and this excludes funding coming from corporate sponsorship for more popular teams). The portfolio managers — or I should say Olympic committee leaders — determine goals, value indicators and programs that can help fulfill its overall sports goal. The sports’ governing body is responsible for allocating the investment into programs that has the potential for more success. They monitor aggregate performance, track spending and measure value of results.

These are the types of decisions that sports leaders have to make as part of portfolio management.

  • How much is allocated for sports programs we already excel in so as to maintain success?
  • How much is allocated for developing sports with the best potential for future success?
  • How much is allocated for improving equipment and facilities?
  • How much is allocated for the athletes’ rewards program and development program in general?

Program Management – Managing Sports Programs

A program, according to PMI, is a group of related projects managed in a coordinated way so as to obtain benefits and control not available from managing them individually. Let’s use the USA basketball program as an example. The objective of the program is to return USA to dominance in basketball. Previously, the USA team failed to win the 2002 FIBA World Championship and finished with bronze at the Athens Olympics. Jerry Colangelo was appointed as the director of the USA basketball program in 2005. He redefined the entire basketball program with the intention of coping with the increasing competition from other countries like Russia, Spain and Argentina. This current USA basketball program was projected to take 6-8 years with the objective of qualifying for the Olympics and winning Beijing and London. The USA basketball program has an even large scope and that is, to promote basketball globally.

The program manager, in this example,  Jerry Colangelo is responsible for developing the overall program plan and creating high level plans for a detailed execution at the component level. The component level items are the projects.

Project management – Preparation and Games Participation

Now let’s break down the USA basketball program into projects.

  1. Assemble the team and train (no longer ad-hoc collection of NBA stars)
  2. Participate in qualifying tournaments (players projected to participate in main events for continuity)
  3. Participate in the basketball tournament (with the objective of winning the gold medal)

As you can see, we dissected the basketball program into three main projects. A project, according to PMI, is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. It has a defined beginning and end and therefore a defined scope and resources. Colangelo appointed Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) as the USA basketball coach. Essentially making him the project leader of the components of the basketball program we listed above.

This example illustrates how portfolio management helps manage a collection of programs and projects to achieve a strategic objective. The main goal of portfolio management is to maximize the value of the portfolio by the careful management of its components—the constituent programs and projects. Countries with resources to invest in sports programs and with the leadership to guide the program through have the advantage over others.

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