Leadership and the NCAA Tournament

Posted by: Jack Kreman - March 20, 2012

Leadership and the NCAA Basketball Tournament

I am a huge fan of the NCAA basketball tournament. In my opinion, there is nothing better in the sports world than those first two days. Four games going on simultaneously. David upsetting Goliath. The destruction to the world’s internet bandwidth. Just typing these words gets me excited.

Almost as compelling as the tournament is the tournament selection show. Teams wait in agony to find out where they will go and who they will play. As I watched the selection show this past Sunday, I was struck by the reaction of the teams. Two teams going to the same event can have vastly different reactions.

Loyola University in Maryland is a school that is more than 150 years old. Yet, in its history, it has only been to the NCAA basketball tournament twice (the other coming in 1994). As the selection show focused the camera on the basketball team from Loyola-Maryland, the emotion was unmistakable. Players were hugging each other. Coaches raised their arms in celebration. Fans gave each other high fives.

Contrast Loyola’s opponent in the first round – Ohio State. Ohio State, by comparison, has been to the NCAA tournament 28 times. It has been to the Final Four 10 times, and in 2007, lost the national title game to the University of Florida. The Ohio State reaction was different. It was calm, nonchalant and maybe even a little bit disappointed. Both teams will meet on the same floor later this week. Why was one team ecstatic while the other very matter of fact? Goals and perspective.

As much as anything, leadership is about goals and perspective. At the beginning of the year, you can be certain what Loyola-Maryland wrote as its top goal: “To win the conference and play in the NCAA tournament.” Ohio State on the other hand? If head coach Thad Matta allowed his team to set its highest goal as simply playing in the NCAA tournament, the Ohio State Board of Regents would not be too thrilled about its $2.5 million dollar investment. As a result, which team has the better chance of winning a national championship? (rhetorical question)

So what does this have to do with the Fraternity? Simple. Goals and perspective.

Goal setting is primary. Chapters do it all the time. When the Fraternity starts new chapters, the goal is simple – get a charter. When a chapter is on probation, its largest goal becomes to get off probation. Chapters set goals to be the best on campus, to take larger new member classes or to win Hugh Shields awards. Goals are what we do.

Few chapters, however, take the time to think about what comes next. That is where perspective comes into play. Of the 10 chapters that earned a Hugh Shields Award in 2010, only five (half) earned one in 2011. Chapters must continually set the bar higher and higher to achieve results. A chapter that wins a Court of Honor Award one year will be disappointed if it wins the same award next year. High achieving leaders understand the need for continual evaluation and goal setting. Perspective and goals are critical to success.

So what can you or your chapter do to become the next fraternal No. 2 seed and not a No. 15 seed?

  1. Review your current situation honestly. Can Loyola win the national championship? No. They have neither the talent nor the resources. Still they set goals. They set goals according to an honest assessment of their situation. Accordingly, you should take a minute and pretend that you have neither the talent nor the resources to achieve. What will you do to overcome? What will your goals look like? What can you do to rise above these challenges? Write these things down now.
  2. Set goals incrementally. Again, can Loyola win the national championship this year? Probably not. Then again, neither could Butler University 10 years ago. The Bulldogs built upon yearly success. Eventually those little wins turned into big wins, and the team qualified in both 2010 and 2011 for the national championship game. Tremendous success does not start overnight, but it can be built.
  3. After you have achieved, start over. This is critical. Complacency is the enemy. It will creep in the moment success is achieved. As a leader, you need to fight it. Go back to step one and assume again you have neither the talent nor the resources to be successful. How will you operate differently? What are your weaknesses? Begin to build on your weaknesses. Then begin the process again.

The No. 15 seed is 4-104 since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams. The odds are not in the favor of Loyola-Maryland. However, sometimes Cinderella does crash the ball. And that is why I love the NCAA tournament.

Jack Kreman (University of Nebraska, Kearney, 2004) is the director of operations for the Fraternity.