A Leadership Masterclass for Driving Business Success

Geno Auriemma is among the most successful basketball coaches the sport has ever seen. Eleven national championships. Eight Naismith Coach of the Year awards. A 1,213-161 career record over 39 seasons with a 111 consecutive win streak within it. And two Olympic gold medals. Talk about greatness personified.


Prior to his arrival to the University of Connecticut in 1985, the women’s basketball program had only one winning season in its entire history. Now, the Huskies are unanimously recognized as the epitome of elite – a direct byproduct of Auriemma’s ability to position his teams for success while continually adapting to the evolving intricacies of college basketball. He leads from the front, but his impact doesn’t stem from Xs and Os alone. According to former UConn star and four-time WNBA champion Sue Bird, it’s also due to his “innate, unique way of tapping into people. Seeing them for who they are, tapping into that and pulling it out.”


That attitude is worth its weight in gold in corporate enterprise environments today. Understanding how to empower people to become the best versions of themselves is what separates great leaders from the pack. It’s what transforms individual talent into collective results and unifies cross-functional teams toward a shared organizational mission. It’s what builds resilience for overcoming complex external challenges like macroeconomic uncertainty, industry volatility, and evolving customer needs. Most of all, as the UConn women showcase each year, it’s what serves as the ultimate differentiating edge for consistently outpacing your closest competitors.


For enterprise leaders, mastering the art of people empowerment is just as important as any other area of expertise.


With the Huskies once again reaching the NCAA Final Four, now is a perfect time to take a page from Auriemma’s book when it comes to fostering sustained success. Applying these five tenets from his leadership philosophy will open doors to becoming a more impactful leader for your company.


Establish a common goal.

As leaders, it’s our job to ensure strategic objectives and key results (OKRs) are clearly defined and communicated across the organization. Employees need a true north in order to collectively drive tangible results in their respective roles. Misalignment across departments can cause fundamental disconnects between your business strategy and implementation efforts – leading to wasted work, misallocated capital, failed product rollouts, customer churn, and more.


It also hinders your ability to adapt to evolving market conditions. In a global survey my company, Planview, commissioned with the Economist in October 2023, 85 percent of enterprise leaders believed their organizations’ ability to adapt to change fell short. Further, only 20 percent were confident in the resources allocated for their strategy implementation. Establish your OKRs from the outset and make them the basis for everything your teams do.


Tell it like it is.

Like Auriemma, I’m a firm believer in never beating around the bush. You must be willing to have tough conversations when necessary, both with direct reports and fellow organizational leaders. Being transparent is so much more effective for addressing performance issues and achieving your desired outcomes. It requires a firm understanding of which communication styles resonate best with different personalities. Some respond well to harsher forms of constructive criticism, while others are more receptive to light positive reinforcement. During my professional tennis career, my most influential coaches knew how to effectively navigate this balancing act.


This approach should apply to customer engagement as well. The last thing a customer wants to hear is some spin story about why their intended results didn’t come to fruition. Be honest about the bottlenecks that are hindering your strategic partnership from succeeding – even when fault lies on your side of the dividing line. Then, outline steps you can take together to get it moving in the right direction.


Address fear and refocus.

Every seasoned enterprise leader knows that the business world will humble you quickly. I’ve witnessed a lot of young founders and rising executives emerge from their postgraduate academic studies with a full slate of confidence ready to take the business world by storm. Then, once they get a true taste of the adversity that comes along with it, their confidence is replaced with semblances of fear and doubt.


It’s important to understand that this transition is normal and healthy. The best product leaders I’ve ever worked with embraced fear as an opportunity for growth. Attack your fears by stepping back, refocusing, and actively working to overcome them through executive coaching, mentorship, and good old-fashioned hard work. That’s the only real way to rise above it.


Focus on desire over fear.

Enterprise leaders are paid to take risks. It’s our job to make bets about what innovative strategies and strategic planning pivots will enable the company to exceed its goals. Oftentimes that can get pretty scary, especially when there are millions of dollars on the line with each decision you make. But that’s just part of the gig, and also what makes it most rewarding.


It’s critical to focus on desire over fear when leading enterprises through challenging times. You can’t let the prospects of failure prevent you from doing what’s best for your organization’s business continuity. Sometimes you’ll be right, and sometimes you’ll be wrong. Embrace it.


Give appreciation.

Celebrating your team’s successes is table stakes to effective leadership. The whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. No matter the size of your organization, articulate how the end results of successful initiatives wouldn’t have been possible without the collective contributions of everyone involved. Don’t just assume that they already know. However, it needs to come from a genuine place. Employees can easily tell when the message isn’t authentic, so be thoughtful about how you convey your appreciation.


When possible, opt for in-person engagement over a standard email and go beyond traditional pats on the back. Explain the why behind how their contributions were so impactful, and share what it means for the bigger picture of your organization’s goals. It will go a long way toward cultivating a results-oriented culture.


Source: INC

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