Harvey Mackay

Big Dance, Big Lessons

I love sports and all the business lessons we learn from competition, whether playing or watching. It doesn’t matter what sport or what level, there are always multiple teaching moments.

The NCAA basketball tournaments for men and women, also known as the Big Dance, are probably my favorite sporting events. I’ve had the privilege of attending numerous Final Fours as a longtime member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Board of Governors. After last year’s cancellations, it was exciting to see this year’s teams have an opportunity to showcase their talents.

It’s win or go home for these exceptional young athletes. The intensity is palpable, yet you can sense their joy and excitement in doing what they love. They are having fun.

It starts with preparation. I have written eight business books, three that hit No. 1 on The New York Times bestseller list, and the title of each of them could have been “Prepare to Win.” Life is all about preparation, and preparation is all about hard work, sacrifice, discipline, organization, practicing the right concepts and more.

These athletes have a desire and determination to succeed. They love what they are doing, and it shows, game in and game out, in their enthusiasm. There’s no question the spark that ignites our lives is enthusiasm, and it’s the one critical trait that cannot be taught. Enthusiasm is about passion, gusto, excitement and infectious energy. Enthusiasm is crucial in every profession.

My good friend Brandon Steiner, CEO of CollectibleXchange and Athlete Direct, pointed out to me that the same coaches manage to advance deep in the NCAA tournament because they stay consistent.

Big goals require three things: a plan, a commitment to carry out that plan and consistency. Getting started is hard enough, but consistently carrying out your plan is more difficult. Even the best business plans will fail without a dedication to consistency.

These basketball athletes never, ever give up. They have confidence and a positive mental attitude. No matter what happens in business, life or sports, don’t quit.

Hustlers never quit. There are a number of attributes a person needs to succeed in life. Two of them are outside our control -- talent and luck. Hustle is a third component, and it can definitely be developed and cultivated. Hustling is essential for anyone who wants to be successful.

Hustlers have intense, laserlike focus. Hustlers don’t do things because they have to. They do things because they choose to. They have self-determination. They embrace risk-taking. They believe taking no risks is the biggest risk. Hustlers love what they do. They have grit. They love to practice and get better each day.

And speaking of hustling, I have an expression I use frequently when I am speaking publicly. Little things mean a lot, not true. Little things mean everything. You can’t put a price on the people who are willing to get tough rebounds, loose balls, deflections and so on. It’s the same for business.

When you work or play with urgency and emotion, good things happen. Same with sticking together and working hard for each other. We saw examples of this in almost every game.

It’s possible to fight ferociously on the court and still have class and respect for your opponent. In fact, the harder you fight to win, the more people will respect you. Competition should bring out the best in you, not the worst.

The team with the best teamwork usually wins. For championship results, you need to be a team player. You have to understand that sometimes you will be the star and other times you will be part of the supporting cast. Every member of the team is important and contributes to the overall success of the project. Bring whatever talents you have and be grateful that others have different skill sets that complement each other.

As legendary college basketball coach John Wooden said, “A player who makes his team great is more valuable than a great player.”

A big part of winning is dreaming big. I often joke that it takes years to become an overnight success. But it starts with a dream. And dreams come true -- with a lot of wide-awake work.

Finally, the game is never over until the final buzzer sounds. Miracles can and do happen.

Mackay’s Moral: Getting to the Big Dance involves learning a lot of steps.