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Mar-29-2010 02:33printcomments

Leadership Lessons from March Madness

"I may not always be right, but no one can ever accuse me of not having a genuine love and passion for whatever I do" - Dick Vitale

March Madness

(CHARLESTON, S.C.) - So, how are your brackets looking? Busted? Mine, too. Like many others, I picked Kansas to take it all. Not that I particularly like Kansas but because I, like so many others, thought it was theirs to lose.

Strange things happen during March Madness. And just when you think you are safe with picks like Kansas and Syracuse, the unthinkable happens.

It reminds of the story from Reader’s Digest years back involving Les Henson, a six foot, six-inch senior forward on the Virginia Tech basketball team. With two seconds to go and the score tied at 77, Henson grabbed a rebound off the Florida State backboard a foot from the baseline and threw the ball overhand to his own basket.

“It was eerie - you couldn’t hear a thing in the arena,” Henson recalled later. “Then it just swished through the hoop” – from 89 feet, 3 inches away, making it the longest field goal in college basketball history. And Henson, who shoots with his left hand, had done it with a right-handed throw.

How the rest of the Final Four goes, I dare not predict, but if it plays out anything like what’s been seen so far, it should be interesting. As a fan of basketball and a student of leadership, I have made a few observations that leaders can learn from.

Conventional wisdom is not always correct. As mentioned already, many brackets were busted when Northern Iowa, the number nine seed, toppled number one seed Kansas. The selection of Kansas to win in all was a safe choice. By choosing Kansas I was in good company.

In this time in which we live, conventional wisdom is not always correct. Anthony Robbins said, “Create a vision and never let the environment, other people’s beliefs, or the limits of what has been done in the past shape your decisions. Ignore conventional wisdom.”

Embracing the vision that is within you is a choice to listen to your heart and sometimes not follow the path of least resistance, but to get on the path that others tell you to avoid. A wise leader is carving out a new path that leads to the fulfillment of the purposes that destiny has prescribed for him. It may not be conventional wisdom to do so, but to do anything less would be to miss your calling.

Never underestimate the underdog. When Northern Iowa knocked off Kansas and when Butler disposed of Syracuse, not too many would have thought it possible. Two number one seeded teams going down to lesser ranked opponents didn’t seem feasible by many prognosticators.

In the game of basketball, as in leadership, those who rise to the top may not have the history of championships past. And on paper they may not match up to their opponents. When teams come together on the basketball court or in the conference room, with the right game plan and determination, a win is possible no matter what the odds are.

You see, leadership is not reading the headlines that predict your loss; it’s about writing the headlines announcing your win. It’s about stepping up to the amazing opportunity that lies before you and defying the skeptics. As the old saying goes, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

The big stage brings out the best in everyone. When given the opportunity, teams like Northern Iowa and Butler did not become a shrinking violet. They rose to the occasion and made a statement.

Sir Francis Bacon said, “A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds.” That is what the two teams did – make an opportunity. Through hard work, skill, and determination, they created an opportunity. Whether they make it to the final game or not, they have already proven the point – the big stage brings out the best.

What about you? What are the opportunities before you? What is the big stage that your organization is vying for? I know this: your moment of destiny is fulfilled when you pursue with a love and passion that which springs from your heart.

David McCullough said, “Real success is finding your life work in the work that you love.” When you find that, it’s really not work – it’s passion. That is what propels teams to victory and it’s what makes you the leader you were meant to be.

Doug Dickerson is the former editor of the Berkeley Independent newspaper in South Carolina. Doug’s writing has been recognized by the South Carolina Press Association, having won awards for enterprise reporting, series of articles, and for humor column writing.

Doug’s passion for communicating leadership principles and personal development is crystallized through his Management Moment column and leadership columns he writes. Read more of Doug’s columns on his blog at

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