Can You Shoot Free Throws? The Discipline of the Basics

Last night, on a national stage, the NCAA Basketball Championship finals were held in San Antonio, Texas. The Kansas Jayhawks defeated the Memphis Tigers 75-68 in a very exciting overtime victory. It was a great game and one of the more competitive games of the tournament.

Here’s the deal: Memphis lost the game, in part, because they can’t shoot free throws. For you non-basketball fans, a free throw is basically the chance to shoot an uncontested shot while everyone else just watches. The percentage of success is very high, according to the stats. Free throw success rates are generally 20 – 25% higher than shots taken from other areas of the court. Toward the end of the game, as Kansas started fouling Memphis players (a common strategy in basketball), the Memphis players missed free throw after free throw. All they had to do was make a few of these shots. They didn’t, and they lost because if it.

Following the game, Memphis Coach John Calipari said, “We spend no time thinking about free-throw shooting,” Well, every basketball fan in American knows that.

While I was watching the Tigers fold under the pressure, I was making some leadership analogies. I am wondering how many leaders spend time thinking about and working on the basics. In basketball, the basics are dribbling, passing and shooting free throws. In leadership, maybe the basics are communication, being an example and responsible living.

I watched Memphis play a few games earlier this season. I wasn’t crazy about their style. Oh, they were a very dominant team, losing only one game prior to the finals. But they were showboats. Lots of talk, lots of taunting other players and teams. True, they were awesome at slam dunking, really exciting to watch as they dribbled behind their backs and made the cool no-look passes. But they can’t shoot free throws. And it cost them big time.

All they had to do was discipline themselves to the basics.

Can you shoot free throws?

A Shortcut to Credibility

One of the most important factors in becoming a leader in any organization is credibility. Most people will not follow a person who is not believable. Trust is indispensable. These elements of leadership take lots of time to develop. Many leaders grow impatient with the process necessary in order to gain trust from their followers.

There is a way to shortcut this process. While no leader hopes for it, crisis has the potential to expedite the evolution of credibility. How a leader responds and leads in times of crisis has a way of fast-forwarding the growth of one’s plausibility. The greater the crisis, the greater the potential effect.

Be ready to act. Position yourself to respond in strong and decisive ways. It is difficult, if not impossible, to anticipate the specifics of the next crisis. While you may not know the characteristics of the emergency that waits around the next corner, you can prepare yourself in general terms. Essentials like steadiness, courage and foresight are necessary. You can’t wait until crisis strikes to develop these strengths.

Begin now. Get yourself ready. Be positioned to act. Not only will you behave as a leader when tough times come, but you will also enjoy more credibility today. The things that make you a great leader in bad times will also make you a great leader right now.

Ten reasons to be like kids:

they forgive
they laugh a lot
they live to play
they hate broccoli
they like to cuddle
candy is vital
believing comes easy
they don’t mind old people
blankets are good

God, I want to be more like a kid.

Balance: Watch your step!

We’ve all seen the guy at the circus, feeling his way across the tightrope, hundreds of feet above the audience. Everybody is watching, the pressure is on, and there is a collective holding of the breath, afraid of the worst. In reality, some sick souls in the crowd are actually hoping the performer falls, then the admission ticket would really be worth its price.

The obvious key to getting from one platform, way up high, to the other, is balance. The circus performer uses a long pole to assist in keeping balance. Slowly and methodically, the entertainer moves across the rope and, ultimately, we all (except for the sick souls) breathe a sigh of relief as he reaches the goal of the other platform.

If you are a leader, you get the connection. You are on a tight rope, way above the crowd (I am in no way implying the superiority of the leader, simply his/her visibility). Everybody is watching, the pressure is on, and some sick souls are actually hoping you fall. How do keep yourself from becoming tomorrow’s headline: “Leader Splats on the Ground!”?

Balance is the key. You had better have something to hold on to. The winds are whipping around up there. The tight rope seems to shift around from time to time. Have you seen the guy at the circus perform this stunt while blindfolded? You get the picture . . .

I suppose shaky knees and a weak backbone will work against you. You can’t look too far ahead, you need to look at your next step. You need to have practiced plenty down low before you go to the top level. So many analogies . . .

Let me encourage you: stay on the tight rope. Don’t allow the gasps of onlookers to frighten you. Many of them are also called to walk the rope but they are too cowardly to give it a try. Don’t allow the bright lights and loud music (or the smell of the elephants) to get to you. Stay focused, and for goodness sake, maintain balance!

What about the sick soul who is hoping you will fall? My advice?: Ignore him. If you are focusing on him, you are not focusing on maintaining your balance. Send him home, grouching about the cost of admission. All the while, you are walking the tightrope, from one platform to the next.

Thanks goodness, we don’t have to wear a leotard.

Compromise: Friend or Foe?

Is compromise a good idea or a bad one? As a leader, can you ever be tempted to allow compromise to define, at least in part, who you are?

Like many other words in our language, in order for us to understand the value of the concept of “compromise”, we must first understand the context. In matters of reputation, integrity and morality, compromise is clearly something that true leaders shun at all costs. We learn early on that compromisers in areas of character will fail. Nothing is more distasteful that to have to work with a weak individual who has no sense of personal integrity.

But what place, if any, does compromise have in areas of relationships, communication with loved ones, and life outside of work? Many times, those who place a high value on reputation and character also struggle with the idea of conciliation in their personal relationships. In order to get along successfully with others, we must also learn the value of cooperation, give and take and we have to know how to find the “middle ground”. This is not an affront to your integrity, it is a necessary skill if we are to enjoy healthy friendships and family lives.

Are you carrying over your insistence of “no compromise” into areas of your personal life? If so, how is that going for you? Do you find yourself right most of the time, but alone?

Never fade from your stand for integrity, but don’t allow this emphasis to prevent you from being a warm and forgiving individual.

Leaders must learn how to stay true to form in matters of character. We must also know how to negotiate on issues of the heart.