Nobody knows that better than Rollie Massimino, director of basketball operations for the men’s and women’s teams at Northwood University in West Palm Beach, Fla. Massimino is best known for leading the Villanova Wildcats to an NCAA championship in 1985, despite entering the tournament as an eighth seed. He holds a career record of 515-391, which ranks him 57th all-time in wins among coaches with at least 10 years of experience at the NCAA division I level.
Smart Business spoke with Massimino about what business leaders can learn from how successful basketball coaches operate and how they can position their companies to pile up victories.
What are some parallels between coaching a basketball team and running a company?
It’s about winning and about having a goal that you try to accomplish that everyone is accountable for. For a goal to be accountable to the entire program, you need good people, and that’s all part of the ingredients of winning. Also, you must make sure you can accept failure at times because you don’t always win. The way you handle failure is just as important as the way you handle winning.
What could a CEO or company president learn from watching a good basketball coach lead a team?
First of all, I think a good basketball coach would make a good CEO, and vice versa. Why? Because there are so many of the same details involved in coaching and running a business.
When I try to develop a basketball team, I look for people who are loyal, have a solid work ethic and want to be the best they can be. Without these qualities, it’s difficult to be successful in this kind of business because, quite frankly, basketball is a business. It takes a very special kind of person who has no clock but has the desire to work as hard as he or she can to be the best he or she can be.
It would seem basketball coaches need to be masterful motivators. What could CEOs learn from them about motivating their employees?
The most important thing I tell my kids is that they develop a philosophy for that particular season to be the best they can be and understand the different roles they’ll need to play. And isn’t it amazing what you can accomplish if no one takes the credit?
About seven or eight years ago, a group of CEOs got together to try to decide what it takes to make employees happy and enjoy what they’re doing. And guess what? It wasn’t additional days off or an increase in insurance coverage or more money in their paycheck. It was two simple words: caring and sharing.
Different people coach different ways. The teams I coach take on the identity of a family. Everything we do is family-oriented, and I always tell my players I spend more time with them than with my own family. There’s one captain of the ship, then we analyze and make sure we care and share and understand that, ‘You work for me, I work for you.’
They say it’s not all about winning but how you play the game. Do you agree?
Yes, because with me, it’s all about the journey, not the destination. Winning is an attitude, and you have to develop an attitude. You also have to develop goals and find ways to motivate your people.
Would you rather have talented players or hardworking players? Or a combination of both?
I want both. I want the best and most talented players, but I also want players with confident attitudes that carry over and help them accomplish their goals.
How do you personally handle the tremendous amount of stress that occurs while coaching a game?
First of all, coaches, like CEOs, feel stress on a daily basis, not just during a game. I handle it with the idea that I’m going to prepare myself every morning I get up and try to put myself in a position to win. I don’t always win, but I at least want something to happen that particular day that’s positive.
ROLLIE MASSIMINO is director of basketball operations for the men’s and women’s teams at Northwood University in West Palm Beach, Fla.