Leadership Lessons from John Calipari

I just finished watching ESPN’s 30 for 30 on John Calipari. After I finished crying – I do during all 30 for 30’s and so do you, don’t lie – I understood and recognized a great leadership lesson. Leadership is about helping your people get to their next level. They are not there to make you better or to make you look good. They are not there for your ego or to win you a championship or get you promoted. They are there to move to their next level. There are many opinions on the one and done culture of college sports before they proceed to the paid professional organization for their sport; I love it, but many hate it. They say the focus should be on finishing their degree and education, not on money. But the point of these young men and women going to college is to be a professional athlete that is the goal. If the athlete is drafted early a degree in Political Science will not make them better at their sport.

So how can we translate this to all organizations? The easiest way is to put the needs of the people ahead of or at least equal to that of the organization’s needs or goals. The leader’s needs should come after both the organization and your people. John Calipari embraced the players that only wanted to do one year in college and then go to the NBA. There are many examples, but the point is that he has put the needs of the individuals on par with the needs of the organization. He knew there would always be great players that wanted only to do one year of college so he wouldn’t be short of great talent. He created a culture and atmosphere where players could be honest with their intentions, and he could take advantage of their short time in his organization because he knew he couldn’t take four years to develop each player. He only had one year to develop each player in specific ways that would compliment each other. This has been a recipe for success.

The key to this is to recognize that the next level is for them. We often think everyone has the same goal or desires as we do. Many people in the manufacturing business have no desire to stay in that business and move up the ranks. Many want to open their own business or change fields altogether. So as leaders we need to find out what they consider their next level and help them get to that point. It seems counterintuitive to find ways to help people leave your organization, especially the excellent ones, but it builds a culture that shows you care more for your people than you do for yourself or the organization’s profits.

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