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3 Leadership Lessons From Virginia Cavaliers Coach, Tony Bennett

The following is a guest blog post from the Director of our Nashville office, Byron Johnson. 

Sports and careers have so many comparable moments, and the story of the Virginia Cavaliers securing their first NCAA tournament championship title Monday night is no exception. Virginia Cavaliers Coach, Tony Bennett, taught us valuable lessons on leading a defeated team to victory.

Helping your team overcome failure: 

In last year’s tournament, as a No. 1 seed, Virginia Cavaliers lost to a No. 16 seed. Then, as a No. 1 seed this year, they fall behind to a No. 16 seed by double digits in the first half of the tournament’s first game before turning it around to win the game. When a team collectively doesn’t achieve a highly sought-after goal, it not only is demotivating, but for some, it can be crippling.

Without the right coach, players can lose confidence in their abilities, but also lose trust and confidence amongst their teammates, which is hard to rebound from. The conversations and actions a coach or leader takes with their team to help them overcome failure makes or breaks the team’s future success. Cavaliers Coach, Tony Bennett, was open about last year’s upset and talked to anyone who asked him for his thoughts. He didn’t shy away from the history, but his priority was helping his team focus on the present and future. He brought in various motivational speakers to help the players refocus, and this helped strengthened his team. They saw Bennett’s resilient belief in their ability, and when a team feels their leader is standing behind them, championing them post-failure, it rebuilds confidence and determination.

Motivating your team: 

The best leaders have a good pulse on their players and know exactly what they need. After last year’s upset, the Cavaliers came to practice at the start of this season expecting a grueling workout. They expected an intense and extended practice. Instead, they watched a TED talk. The man giving the speech had a horrible injury at the age of five and talked about how he’d overcome life’s hurdles by telling his story, and that by sharing the story, he wasn’t rewriting history, but overcoming it.

This was an impressive leadership moment and was exactly what the team needed. It was the message that would fuel their motivation for the season ahead. The best leaders know their people inside out. They know what their motivators and triggers are. They know what each individual needs, and when they need to push the employee harder and when they need to ease off.  They know when to spot burnout and fatigue and help their employees through it to keep them motivated to achieve a long-term goal.

Encouraging your team to use each other: 

A team doesn’t succeed with individual egos and fails when players don’t utilize each other. Nearing the end of the game, rather than getting fouled, Ty Jerome spotted De’Andre Hunter in the corner who made a 3 point shot, keeping the game alive. With seconds to make the decision to pass rather than shoot a layup is the definition of a selfless player who checks their ego at the door. And this reflects their leader. The most successful teams operate as one unit, not individuals. They understand that the areas they lack, someone else has, and utilizes each other’s strength to collectively achieve a goal. The right leaders drive this behavior on a daily basis.

Some are calling this the most redemptive season in the history of college basketball, and the next time your team faces a failure or upset, consider how this team overcame their obstacles and how Coach Bennett led them to victory.

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