Next week begins the NCAA Basketball Tournament otherwise known as March Madness.  If there is one thing we are reminded of each March, it is that the best leaders perform at the highest levels on the biggest stages.

In the March 6th edition of Sports Illustrated, the Top 10 performers in the tournament’s history are identified.  Listed in descending order, I noticed 10 leadership skills from these championship performers that all leaders can learn from regardless of our area of discipline.

  1. Great Leaders Are Inclusive – Great leaders cross racial barriers.  In 1960, George Raveling, an African-American center from Villanova, visited West Virginia University led by the great Jerry West.  Raveling states, “I’ve been in the South about six times and while there’s never been serious trouble, sometimes I’v heard remarks about my race or religion.  There was nothing like that in Morgantown, and I think it was because Jerry West made it a point, right from the start, to make us feel at ease.”
  2. Great Leaders Influence Behind The Scenes – Duke center Christian Laettner’s greatest influence was at practice, in the locker room, and in the dorms.
  3. Great Leaders Have Regrets – Though Magic Johnson won the 1979 championship in the legendary Michigan State-Indiana Stage game, he still regrets losing an Elite Eight game against the Kentucky Wildcats the previous season.  He says, “They beat us to go to the Final Four and win the whole thing.  If we could have won that game, that could have been us winning the title.”
  4. Great Leaders Continually Improve – Bill Bradley, the Princeton star and future United States Senator, scored 58 points in the 1965 consolation game.  Bradley, who often practiced by shooting with weights in his shoes and dribbling with blinders taped to his glasses, owed his success to “practicing the right way.”
  5. Great Leaders Leave A Legacy – When Wilt Chamberlain left Kansas in 1958, three rules changes were put in place simply because of him – offensive goaltending, no passing over the backboard on inbounds plays, and no jumping from the foul line on free throws.
  6. Great Leaders Are Eventually Recognized – After being disrespected by Bobby Knight, head coach of the Indiana Hoosiers, Larry Bird then played for tiny Indiana State in French Lick, In.  It was not until his senior season that the nation discovered how good he was.  And then they never forgot him.
  7. Great Leaders Are Intelligent – While most are familiar with the quality of his game, Oscar Robertson was also a strong student graduating from Cincinnati in 1960 with a degree in Business Administration.
  8. Great Leaders Have A Unique Perspective – Prior to winning 11 championships in 13 years with the Boston Celtics, Bill Russell won two NCAA championships with the San Francisco Dons.  He says, “We changed the game.  I think you can say we developed a whole new philosophy of basketball.  We attacked the offense and made it react to the defense.”
  9. Great Leaders Engage Culture – UCLA center Bill Walton was a three-time Academic All-American, engaged in social issues, participated in campus protests, and was a loyal follower of the Grateful Dead.
  10. Great Leaders Are Humble – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, known as Lew Alcindor while at UCLA and the greatest tournament player in history, won three consecutive NCAA championships and was named tournament MVP each time.  Alcindor was a humble superstar who valued teamwork, a trait he learned from watching his father play trombone in a jazz band.

Inclusive, Influence Behind The Scenes, Regrets, Continually Improve, Leave A Legacy, Recognition, Intelligence, A Unique Perspective, Engage Culture, and Humbleness.  If you possess these 10 characteristics, you too are most likely a championship performer.

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