Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Calhoun Has Passion to Lead: Who's with Him?

The University of Connecticut men’s basketball team is struggling. After the Huskies opened the season with a No. 12 ranking, Coach Jim Calhoun’s squad twice rose as high as No. 10 in the country. Jan. 2 marked the last contest that the team ascended that high. Less than three weeks later now seems like three months ago.

The perennial power has lost three straight contests and must be thankful for a home date Wednesday against St. John’s. What does all this have to do with sports books, sports media and so on? Well, I came across Calhoun’s book, “A Passion to Lead,” and I said to myself, “I wonder how well his team and how the audience in general is following his ‘Seven Leadership Secrets for Success in Business, Sports and Life’?”

One of the first principles the longtime mentor introduces is “Success starts with wanting to be successful.” (Pg. 21, Passion). Who knows the reason, but after the first loss of the current three-game slide, Calhoun in his press conference said that desire was lacking. “We took our 20 minutes of work, threw it away and said, 'OK, now let's play an even game."'

“Make incremental progress,” Calhoun continues in his book. He cites the example of a marathon runner in the beginning stages of training. Running seems to become more and more popular every day in America and around the world. I wonder how many of us extend the challenge to “make incremental progress” every day in other areas of our lives?

Chapter two covers standards. You have to have standards, of course, but as a leader “You’ll never have a really strong organization if you, as the leader, have to apply all the performance pressure yourself. Ultimately, your core people have to want to win as much as you do.” (77) What kind of people do you surround yourself with? Do they share your attitudes in thoughts and actions?

Calhoun decrees that good isn’t enough at UCONN. “…You’ve got to be a hellacious motivator to develop your talent every day so it performs at a peak level. Not a decent motivator, or even a good motivator, but a hellacious motivator – somebody who’s working 24/7 to get his people in a winning frame of mind.” (101)

According to ” Flexible Thinking and the Power of Plan B,” “Don’t be afraid to go against the grain.” For UCONN, that launching pad approach meant coaxing recruits to come to Storrs because of the opportunity to face Big East competition, rather than luring a young man to Connecticut on its merits.

In the early stages of his tenure, Calhoun and his assistants did not thrive in the most glamorous situation, but as he had learned from his teenage years, “My view is that winners deal with hardships directly – accept the reality of a situation, confront it, adjust to it – and then move on.” (198) What challenge do you need to conquer head-on?

After the Huskies’ latest setback, senior Jerome Dyson echoed that mentality in the Michigan postgame presser. "We've got to fight through it because if we don't fix this right now, we're going to run out of time to fix it."

Looking at the big picture, Jim Calhoun has led one of college basketball’s best programs. Three times in 11 years, the Huskies have forged a path to the Final Four, winning two championships. Nonetheless, after reading his book, you’ll see he is far from content and you shouldn’t be satisfied either.

“If you’re willing to pay the price to be successful, then you must also pay the price to maintain your success,” he says. (228)

When he was 15, Calhoun lost his father. That could have derailed anyone. I can’t imagine what he went through. But he persevered with the strengths that helped make him one of basketball’s best coaches.

In 2005, he received Hall of Fame distinction. Much of the coach’s induction speech applies far beyond basketball. “The game asks that you work to improve, that you put something into it, and that you also give something back to it.” (273)

If you consistently do what you can to get better, you will end up in a class of distinction, as Coach Calhoun did. If you are half-hearted, that too will work itself out. Who do you want to be, and how are you going to get there starting today?

Sam Miller/Free Keon

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