My definition of success is having a predetermined plan, successfully carrying it out over a long period of time and having a good time doing it.
That’s what John Calipari does as the men’s basketball coach at the University of Kentucky. Coach Cal is able to recruit the country’s top high-school talent with this simple message: “Commit to each other, be about each other without sacrificing your goals and by doing this you can achieve all your dreams and more.”
Because many of his players are one and done – meaning they leave for the pros after their freshman season – Coach Cal views each new team like a start-up business due to a constant flow of new players, meaning new relationships and new challenges. His job is to mold them into championship material when the season comes to an end in the spring.
I read Coach Cal’s new book, “Success Is the Only Option: The Art of Coaching Extreme Talent” and discovered that it contains lessons for CEOs, business owners, coaches, teachers and leaders of all kinds.
First you have to assemble the talent, as Coach Cal writes: “Talent matters. There’s no way around it. But the gold standard is to get your talented team to play with desperation.” He says that he looks for players that have a purpose.
“I always ask my players: What’s your why? Why do you want to have success? Is it just for fame and fortune, and if you attained that, who would it be for? … What’s driving them forward is a cause bigger than their own self-interest.”
When I was building my envelope manufacturing company, I looked for employees who embraced TGIM – Thank God It’s Monday. I wanted people who were excited to come to work.
Similarly, Coach Cal writes: “When I’m recruiting, I’m looking for a kid who’s alive. He’s got a bounce in his step. A smile on his face. Love for his teammates.” He mentions a former player who “came into the gym every day like it was Christmas morning.”
Passion and persistence are common themes, at the top of the list of the skills you need to excel whether you’re in sales, playing basketball or any other profession. There simply is no substitute. If you don’t have an intense, burning desire for what you are doing, there’s no way you’ll be able to work the long, hard hours it takes to become successful.
Calipari looks for an athlete’s spirit and appetite for work. He wants players who have a pure love of the game and a fierce will to get better, plus the right physical attributes.
“You have to learn to love the grind,” Calipari writes. “Loving the grind and feeling fulfilled at the end of a hard day should be part of the culture that extreme talent embraces.”
Another important business principle that Coach Cal touches on is trust. He writes, “For a coach, there is nothing more unsettling than having a point guard you can’t trust.”
To me, trust is the most important word in business. Trust is central to doing business with anyone. Without it, you have another word that begins with T: Trouble.
Coach Cal also touches on self-confidence, which I believe is extremely important in almost every aspect of our lives. Confidence enables you to perform to the best of your abilities, without the fear of failure holding you back.
Calipari writes: “I want boldness and what I call swagger – a strong self-confidence that edges up to but does not cross the line into arrogance.”
He talks about “red flags,” starting with respect. When he is recruiting someone, he takes note of how the player treats family members. If he shows any disrespect, he moves on.
I’ve found that treating people with respect begins at the top of an organization. Senior managers set the stage by treating each other and their subordinates with respect. Be respectful or be regretful.
Another red flag is playing the blame game. We live in a rampant culture of blaming others for our problems. “Truly owning up to our mistakes is a learned behavior, a part of growing up,” writes Calipari.
Finally, Coach Cal talks about creating joy. “From the moment my players arrive, we talk about the concept of how we create joy in our lives. True joy, I tell them, comes from being a giver. On the court, among their teammates, when they are off the court and out in the world, I want every one of them to be a person who lifts up others.”
I have found that people who help others on a regular basis have a healthier outlook on life. They are inclined to be go-getters and consistently report being happier and more contented.
Mackay’s Moral: Success is not just the only option, it’s the best option.
Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.
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