The Half Court Set and Leadership

A Basketball.The half court set is a reference to basketball and my attempt to write a cool headline. For today’s news we have a new in-depth article in Sport’s illustrated. The article is on UCLA basketball and the fall from national prominence over the past several years. As a Cal Berkeley guy, I am fine with UCLA falling down, but with my eye for leadership effectiveness this article points to a true lack of leadership at UCLA. There are lessons here for us folks so let’s take a closer look.

I will not detail the situation too much here. I provide a link to the full story below if you are interested. The story is built on interviews with a number of former players and staff. While the article goes into detail on the bad-boy behavior of a number of players, it is the coach, Ben Howland that is my focus and his serious lack of effective leadership.

Here is a quote from a former player to start us off:He focused on basketball strategy, not team building. Each of the players who spoke to SI said they found Howland socially awkward and disapproved of the verbal abuse they say he directed at his staff, the student managers and the weakest players. One player said if he saw Howland waiting for the elevator he would take the stairs.”

A leader needs to find his voice and stance in public to assure he or she does not come off as awkward. It is not about being an extrovert or an introvert. Your team / your employees will read your body language and check on how comfortable you are in a group setting. The words and message you speak to will be diluted if you are seen as so-called “socially awkward”. What can we say about the verbal abuse – not a leader’s approach. It is the approach of the boss who is not thinking about longer term consequences. Leaders attract people and to get on the same elevator with a strong leader is something to look forward too.

The article details special treatment over and over by coach Howland to the star players. The implication is that the ends justifies the means. These players help his team win games. That may work short-term, but not long-term and that was the case at UCLA. Players were confused on the treatment and, guess what, the bad behavior continued. By doing little to nothing to improve the bad behavior by a few players, the coach was reinforcing it.

Later in the article Coach Howland is quoted as saying, “I firmly believe in the philosophy of giving all of my players the chance to do things the right way.” This is in response to why the coach was not doing more to discipline bad behavior. I ask simply, what is the right way coach? Are you setting the example? Do you have a relationship with your players outside of the court where you can talk to such things?

Throughout the article i was looking for the word, “leadership”. It did not show up to the end of the article. “UCLA basketball has always had its own special shine, and any tarnish has never been tolerated for long. As tempting as it is to blame immature players — and they deserve a heavy dose — the team members who spoke to SI were unanimous in their belief that leadership from Howland would have prevented or at least curtailed the damage.”

There it is in the middle of the paragraph, leadership would have prevented or at least curtailed the damage. It helps if each of us has a strong superior/boss in our work that is an effective leader in his or her own right. If we can not work it our ourselves and recognize the need for improved leadership, it is best that our boss helps us understand the need for change. Of course that is effective leadership too. Well, for my final thought let’s look at the comment from the UCLA athletic director concerning his basketball coach, “I need Ben Howland. Why would I even think about looking at someone else?” … Because Ben Howland is a hell of a coach, and anyone who understands basketball, anyone that’s been around him, that knows the game, has the utmost respect for what he does as a coach”.

Both the coach and his boss (bad combination there) miss the point and path to success. Yes, it is the technical (half court set and such), but it is also the vital leadership traits and execution that provides for sustained success on the court and off.

As a start, I suggest Coach Howland starts his next talk with his team by stating, “We move forward together”.

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