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7 Leadership Lessons from an NBA Coach

New Jersey Nets Coach Avery Johnson Shares Lessons by Which to Lead, Learn, and Live

In every high school, there are motivational posters scattered along the walls to remind us to live by certain core values. We all know them well–the poster with the words “LEADERSHIP” with an image of a four star general and an inspirational quote underneath.

However, great leaders do not have to be decorated soldiers in the military or the President of the United States. Great leaders are everywhere you look.

But here comes the great debate: Are people born leaders, or can leaders be “made?” The old “nature” vs. “nurture” debate has been around for centuries and still hasn’t been resolved.

I think it’s safe to say that perhaps becoming a leader requires a little bit of both. You can never have too much advice from an already-established leader.

In a recent article in Inc., NBA Coach Avery Johnson provided us with his Top 7 Leadership Lessons. Coach Johnson won “NBA Coach of the Year” after his first full season (2005-2006) as head coach. Even before he became a coach and was still a player for the San Antonio Spurs, he was nicknamed “Little General” for his leadership skills.

“Bringing a unique perspective as a leader has been important for Johnson throughout his career, and particularly when he took over for a Nets team that had won only 12 games in the previous season” said Inc. “He considers the qualities of being a good leader in the NBA very similar to those necessary for succeeding in the business world.”

Whether you’re leading an NBA team or a small business, these 7 Leadership Lessons will always make the cut:

1. Cultivate Relationships to Build a Winning Culture

If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that relationships are extremely important. I really cannot stress this enough. Building relationships not only involves your customers/clients, it extends to everyone you come in contact with. You can’t go into a business with all new ideas and expect your employees to change at the drop of a hat. It takes building relationships to create a successful company culture. Not doing this properly will result in HUGE ramifications.
Once your employees understand you and your mission, you’re in for a smooth ride.

2. Know When to Push Your Employees

I’m a big fan of pushing my team to reach its full potential. Once you really know your employees, figure out which buttons to push to make them challenge themselves. That’s the way we learn, by stepping out of our comfort zone. People will make mistakes, but they will learn from them. Your employees will feel a greater sense of purpose and will feel like they are an essential part of the team.

3. Respect is Key

This one is true for anything. People have to respect you before you can lead them. Respect is built from your background as well as how you manage situations. Being too lenient could mean your employees don’t take you seriously. Being too harsh could mean your employees begin to resent you and don’t put in 100%. There is a fine line between these two, but once it’s established, you’re golden.

4. Discover Your Different Voices

According to Coach Johnson, you need “a teaching voice, a disciplinary voice, an angry voice, a loving voice, and an incensed voice […] Having those different voices that you have to have and knowing when to apply which one at what time, and with which employee, is so important.”

This piece of advice couldn’t be closer to the truth. Leadership is all about balance. Every employee is different, so it’s a difficult skill to determine which voice to use on which employee at which time. You have to know when to be angry, supportive, disciplinary, etc. Master that and you are already way ahead of the game.

5. Address Challenges Before They Arise

Preparing yourself, as well as your team, for future challenges is key to success. Forward thinking is a necessity in any successful sports team, business, or anything else! You can’t just jump into things without thinking them through. Know every angle of your business and everything that could go wrong.

Uncertainty does not always have to be feared if you prepare for the good and the bad.

6. The Six C’s of Good Leaders

  • Great Communication
  • Strong Character
  • Competitive Drive
  • Consistency in the Way You Lead
  • Compassion
  • Confidence

What you do on the court parallels what you do off of it. Having those 6 C’s is fundamental to solid leadership. Keep the lines of communication open, but to a minimum to maintain efficiency. Have character and show an example to others. Always have the competitive advantage and be on a mission to win it. Always be consistent in the way you lead, that way others know what to expect and mixed messages aren’t sent. Have compassion for others, especially your employees and customers, because it will build trust. And lastly, have confidence. Confidence is key and can make or break any leader.

7. Focus on Small Victories, Not Just Big Wins

Make it a point to focus on details and small victories. If you don’t recognize any achievement until you’ve won the championship, something’s off. Recognize your employees for their hard work. Let them know you noticed. It will make them feel appreciated and they will always go above and beyond when completing tasks.

A little goes a long way.

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The Lunch Line, Revolutionized

How One Company is Innovating School Lunches and Attacking the Obesity Epidemic

I can remember the meals offered in my school lunch program. The gems that come to mind are unappealing lasagna, frozen chicken nuggets, and cheese sticks with a pouch of sugary juice.

Just thinking about it makes me shudder!

One socially responsible company is revolutionizing schools by innovating their lunch programs. Oakland, California based Revolution Foods provides low-income schools and students with access to nutritious and delicious foods. According to an article in Inc., the company has already served over 400 schools across California and has expanded to Washington D.C., Newark, and Houston.

Too many schools cannot afford healthy school lunches, so Revolution Foods co-founders Kirsten Tobey and Kristin Richmond lent a helping hand. Both have a passion for food, and recognized a huge disconnect between nutritional education and the foods kids eat.

The National School Lunch Program’s reimbursement rate is a challenge, since Revolution Foods only has $3 to work with to put together a nutritionally balanced meal. There is now greater momentum bringing higher reimbursement levels to low-income kids, but it’s not enough to make health and nutrition universally accessible.

Just like Revolution Foods, that’s our mission to the core: to make healthy foods universally accessible by offering healthy snacks and drinks and nutritional information along the way.

Way to go Revolution Foods! Thanks to you, we are all one step closer to eliminating childhood obesity.

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Biomedical Engineer who earned his degree from The Johns Hopkins University & Columbia University. Named one of Forbes’ Top 30 Under 30 in 2013. Co-Founded America’s first Pure Play healthy vending company in 2003.
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