Business is a lot like sports. Business is rarely a zero-sum game since success does not have to come at the expense of others. Still, some companies win while others lose—and the reasons why aren’t always obvious.
Take basketball. As Bill Simmons (the most insightful and entertaining sportswriter on the planet) writes in his outstanding The Book of Basketball:
[The Lakers and Celtics] were loaded with talented players, yes, but that’s not the only reason they won. They won because they liked each other, knew their roles, ignored statistics and valued winning over everything else. They won because their best players sacrificed to make everyone else happy. They won as long as everyone remained on the same page. By that same token, they lost if any of those three factors weren’t in place.
Simmons calls this principle “The Secret” and says, quoting NBA-great Isaiah Thomas, “The secret of basketball is that it’s not about basketball.”
The same principle applies to business. Individual talent is obviously important, but the ability to work together, check egos at the door and make individual sacrifices when necessary is the only way a team succeeds.
Think about the business teams you’ve seen fail. Rarely was their failure due to a lack of talent or even the absence of a great idea. More often they failed because of personality conflicts, ego clashes or competing agendas.
So is the secret of business that it’s not about business?
Later in the book Simmons describes the secret to Hall-of-Famer Bill Walton.
It’s not a secret as much as a choice… Look at the forces pushing you to make the other choice, the wrong choice. It’s all about you. It’s all about material acquisitions, physical gratifications, stats and highlights… And you wouldn’t even know otherwise unless you played with the right player or the right coach…. With a truly great coach, it’s not about a diagram, it’s not about a play, it’s not about a practice, it’s the course of time over history.
It’s the impact a coach has on the lives around him.
That’s why every great leader makes the same decision. “Can you make the choice that your happiness can come from someone else’s success?”
If you can make that choice, you take the most important step towards becoming a great leader.
No leader has qualities like courage, vision, charisma, adaptability and decisiveness in equal measure.
But every great leader does make the same decision—and so can you.