Although it runs this year from March 18 to April 7, the NCAA National Men's Basketball Tournament has earned the nickname "March Madness." Much like the Super Bowl, it's a time where hardened fans can get their inner sports geek on while other people who don't care about college hoops the rest of the year suddenly take on a keen interest.
Put another way, March Madness reinforces a sport's connection with its core consumers while simultaneously getting the attention of new potential fans.
And it does this every year.
If you don't think there's something entrepreneurs can learn from that, you haven't been paying attention.
1. Channel Your Inner Underdog
What can you do to capture that halftime comeback spirit for the coming quarter?
Being behind by just a few points makes a team work harder than if it's leading by a few points. This is the core cause behind second-half upsets: Underdogs work harder. Setting aggressive, but achievable, metrics for success can create that underdog work ethic—as long as you don't slide into blowout territory by setting aggressive, unachievable goals.
A 2011 study of professional basketball games statistically supports this idea, finding that a far-greater-than-predicted number of teams behind at halftime won the game by the final buzzer.
2. Know the Role of Each Player on Your Team
How well-defined are the roles within your organization?
Each player on a team—guard, forward, center and all the variations thereof—has a specialized role when the team is in play. This role determines how he plays, how he practices and what goals the coach sets for him throughout the season. The coach, manager and other support staff have their own specialized roles ranging from analyzing the competition to making sure the uniforms get on the same plane as the players. Each is important, and contributes to the success of the team.
In small businesses, when employees sometimes wear several hats, "mission drift" can be a big problem. It leads to poorly defined jobs, and jobs that aren't assigned to any particular team member. Take a lesson from the winning team of this year's tournament and make sure everyone knows his or her role, and that somebody's remembering those shoes.
3. Fun Matters
Are you spending resources to engage not only your fans, but new consumers and especially your team?
March Madness captures the attention of basketball agnostics because it's fun. It promises drama, high stakes, crazy fans in crazy costumes and a sense of importance and pageantry—and it delivers on that promise. Few moments in the tournament are better than the look of utter joy or disappointment when a play works or fails at a vital moment.
Social media makes it easier to deliver on the promise of engaged fun to fans, who will then bring the promise to new consumers. In-house, though, how much time do you spend having fun with your staff? The more they enjoy their part of doing what you do, the better the experience for your customers.
4. Play Hurt and Play to Win
Are you keeping obstacles reduced to their proper size?
Almost every NCAA tournament—and this will be no exception—profiles an athlete who's playing despite a serious early season injury or crushing personal tragedy. Often, these are afflictions that would make many people curl up for a year in self-pity, but the game inspires the players to move past the obstacles and focus on success.
Some obstacles are legitimate problems that require swift resolutions, but many are mere annoyances or emotion-laden setbacks. Applying the work ethic of a college champion team to those challenges will keep your company and team focused on winning the game.
Bonus Point: Be a Standup Coach
For me, a moment in the 2010 NCAA Tournament will forever define excellent leadership. During a match against Duke University, West Virginia forward Da'Sean Butler suffered a brutal knee injury that left him on the floor screaming and writhing in pain. His coach, Bob Huggins—a man known for screaming at referees and a generally gruff demeanor—dropped to his knees in front of 70,000 fans and a TV audience in the millions, hugged his athlete and comforted him until paramedics began treatment. Huggins didn't care about the game or the audience, or his image He only cared about doing right by a member of his team.
Is your leadership that strong?
Read more articles on leadership.
Photo: Getty Images