Leadership and Basketball
A Q&A Session with Andy Gallion
Have you ever considered how coaching a sports team would be like leading a successful business? It might seem like comparing apples and oranges at first. Still, when you peel back the layers, you’ll discover that the strategies and philosophies that drive a winning team on the field or the court can also help your business succeed.
To dive into this topic, we grabbed our dry erase board and hit the court with Andy Gallion, Co-Founder and Chief Development Officer of InCheck. Andy talked about his experience leading and growing InCheck, and how those business lessons apply to his new role as the Head Coach of the Wauwatosa West Trojans Girls' Basketball team.
It Starts with Believing
“Good teams become great ones when the members trust each other enough to surrender the Me for the We.” – Phil Jackson
Q: How would you describe your leadership style on the basketball court or boardroom?
As a leader, I try to empower people to do their best work by enabling them to be their best selves. It’s been my experience that people who feel fulfilled and have purpose also believe in what we’re trying to accomplish. They believe in the team. And when they believe, when they know everyone has each other’s back, and they know you truly care about them, the sky’s the limit. The same holds true in basketball. When a team is playing for each other and not for themselves, when they believe in each other, trust each other, and are willing to compete for each other, that collective will is extremely powerful and is the underlying foundation of every successful team.
Teamwork and Collaboration
“It’s not about any one person. You’ve got to get over yourself and realize that it takes a group to get this thing done” – Gregg Popovich
“Decisions are more apt to be accepted when you’ve listened to suggestions first. I want them to see the reason behind what I asked of them, not to do things because I said so.” – John Wooden
Whether on or off the court – when individuals come together and work towards a common goal, they can achieve results far greater than they could accomplish on their own. Most successful basketball teams have players of varying skill levels who bring different strengths to the court. Not every player, for example, is a great scorer, but if that player is willing to do the little things needed to win, has the right attitude, and is dedicated to the team, they are just as important as anyone. The job of every good coach is to recognize the strengths of each player and communicate that they are valued for who they are – and not less than for who they aren’t.
Q: How do you foster a sense of teamwork and collaboration?
I do this by building relationships. If people feel connected and like they belong, they will naturally feel like they are seen and valued. I also think it’s important to ask people how they look at a particular challenge and ask for a solution rather than jumping in to dictate how to solve the problem. It’s important to communicate that you see and appreciate the little things people or players do that contribute to the success of the team.
Making Tough Calls: Decision-making Under Pressure
“The future is coming so fast we can’t possibly predict it; we can only learn to respond quickly.” – Steve Kerr
Coaches do their best to prepare teams for what to expect in every situation in every game. Yet, things often go differently than planned, and when they do, quick decision making in stressful situations is required. Being able to communicate calmly and clearly helps keep the team confident and focused. Critical business decisions are similar. In difficult times, your team is looking to you as the leader, and you must be ready for the moment.
Q: What factors do you consider when making important decisions?
I consider what is best for the company or team, and if we are doing right by the person or people involved. I will reflect on my motives to ensure I’m acting with integrity. I will also ask, “How will I feel (or what will happen) if I don’t make this decision?” It’s important to look at the financial, cultural, strategic, short-term, and long-term implications of the decision to ensure we’re not putting the company in a more difficult position. One of the most significant differences between making important decisions in business versus on the basketball court is time. At the end of a basketball game, during a timeout, you might only have 30 seconds or a minute to think of a solution and communicate it to the players who will need to execute flawlessly. It's important to be as prepared as possible for those situations. Most business decisions afford more time, but sometimes the pressure can be even greater, and the solution more challenging to identify. In either situation, it’s important to trust your gut and follow a battle-tested process for making important decisions.
The Game Plan: Setting Goals and Maintaining Alignment
“Success is a result of consistent practice of winning skills and actions. There is nothing miraculous about the process. There is no luck involved.” – Bill Russell
A game plan in basketball includes offensive and defensive tactics, player assignments, and specific objectives. Maintaining alignment within the team involves ensuring that every player understands and commits to executing the game plan effectively. Succeeding on or off the court requires clear communication, teamwork, and a shared commitment to achieving a common goal.
Q: How do you establish goals and objectives for your team/organization?
Establishing goals and objectives is different in business and coaching. In business, it’s essential to have measurable goals, as there is a heightened degree of accountability. There is real money involved, and people’s livelihoods are at stake. Having goals that keep the company moving forward is a must. In basketball, talent changes yearly, and the goals must adjust accordingly. With this year’s team, I hesitate to set a goal because I believe this is a very talented group who, again, if they believe in the process and believe in the team concept, could go further than they ever imagined.
Rebounding and Pivoting: Adaptability and Resilience
"Offense sells tickets, defense wins games, and rebounding wins championships." – Pat Summit
Basketball is a dynamic sport where teams must adapt to changing circumstances during a game, and adversity throughout a long season. Whether it’s adjusting defensive strategies to counter an opponent’s offense, changing offensive plays to exploit weaknesses in the defense, or adapting to unexpected situations like injuries or foul trouble, the ability to adjust on the fly is crucial. The same is true in business. The ability to realign and refocus are critical skills needed to overcome obstacles.
Q: How do you navigate challenges, whether on the basketball court or in the business world?
The first step is to slow things down and understand the challenge. Unpack it, evaluate where you are, where you need to be/want to go, and how to get there. Then, get together with other leaders and develop a plan collaboratively to solve the challenge. If your people are part of designing the plan or solution, they will be more invested in the outcome. It’s essential to accept and handle challenges as learning opportunities and focus on improving by working through them.
Watching the Game Tape: Performance Evaluation
“It will never get easier, but you will handle hard better.” – Kara Lawson
Q: How do you evaluate the performance of your team members/employees?
I was taught to look at two things, the eye test, and metrics/numbers. With the eye test, if a new team member, for example, is struggling to hit their numbers, but this person is always on time, asks great questions, and communicates effectively, we will work with them on their areas of improvement because they are succeeding in other ways. With metrics, if someone is crushing their goals but struggling to fit in culturally, we will also work with that person on being more balanced. Of course, if someone is falling short in both areas, we probably didn’t make the right hire. Conversely, if someone is excelling in both areas, we want to identify new challenges to help that person grow personally and professionally.
Sports have always been an excellent metaphor for teamwork and winning. Coach Andy Gallion’s journey between the business world and the basketball court is a testament to the universal principles of leadership, belief, collaboration, and adaptability. These lessons intersect in his life as a basketball official, coach, and business leader. Applying a growth mindset to life’s challenges no matter what you do will help position you for success in the future.
Want to hear more stories about the team at In Check? Check out our company page to learn more.