My father-in-law asked if I wanted to attend the Marquette basketball “open practice” and I immediately responded with YES!
The Marquette University Golden Eagles are ranked #5 in the preseason polls and I’ve loved their Head Coach, Shaka Smart ever since he turned Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) into a basketball powerhouse in the early 2010s.
My original expectations was a fun way to entertain our 3 young kids for the evening and maybe … just maybe… I might get to watch a little basketball. What I found, instead, was an absolute masterclass on leadership.
In this blog post, I'll share what I learned from Shaka Smart's practice and how they can be applied to business.
Clarity & Organization
- Every individual involved in the practice, from the coaching staff to the equipment managers, understood their roles and responsibilities, leading to an incredibly efficient and effective practice session.
- Not a minute was wasted during the 90-minute practice.
- Lesson Learned: In business, clear roles and processes are essential for productivity and success. When everyone understands their responsibilities, operations run smoothly, and time is used effectively.
Culture & Guiding Principles
- Shaka Smart fostered a culture centered around "Energy Generating Behaviors" (EGBs), which included high fives, chest bumps, floor slaps, and anything that created positive energy.
- This culture was not just words; it was actively lived by coaches, players, and supporting staff.
- Lesson Learned: In business, your values and principles should be the guiding force in your organization, defining the way you attract, select, engage, and retain talent. Values should be communicated and integrated into every aspect of your operations.
Wildly Important Goal & Lead Measures
- Shaka Smart introduced a unique metric, the "kill," defined as achieving three defensive stops in a row.
- He emphasized that attaining 8 "kills" in a game was the key to victory.
- To accomplish this goal, they tracked leading indicators such as deflections, blocked shots, and turnovers.
- Lesson Learned: Identifying wildly important goal and establishing predictive and influenceable lead measures is vital for success. In business, setting clear objectives and tracking relevant metrics drive your team toward achieving those goals.
Competition & Replicating “Game-Like” Scenarios
- The team engaged in 25 mini-games over the course of 90 minutes, tracking performance and offering rewards and consequences.
- The final mini-game determined which team "won the day," with Blue narrowly defeating Gold (13 to 12).
- Lesson Learned: Healthy competition can motivate teams to perform at their best. Creating competitive scenarios in business can lead to improved results and a more engaged workforce. Additionally, practicing under pressure can lead enhance performance when it matters most.
Engagement & Focus
- The entire team, from the players to the coaching staff to the equipment managers, exhibited unwavering engagement and focus.
- Players who weren't actively participating could be heard clapping, cheering, and staying ready to step in when called upon.
- Lesson Learned: Engagement and focus are crucial in both basketball and business. When every team member actively participates and remains focused, the collective effort becomes more productive.
My experience at Marquette’s open practice was a memorable one. I saw Shaka Smart’s Guiding Principles living across his entire team and staff. I understood the Wildly Important Goal (8 kills per game) and the path to achieving it (deflections, blocked shots, turnovers). I witnessed the impact of strong organization, clear communication and focus. And I felt the energy, enthusiasm, and commitment that EGBs can bring to a group.
I left the practice session energized and motivated to create more Energy Generating Behaviors in my family, with my friends, clients, and across my entire network. Shaka Smart's leadership insights, gleaned from the basketball court, are applicable far beyond the gym, providing a blueprint for success in the business world.