7 Leadership Lessons from Geno Auriemma

Bill with Auriemma

Leadership Consultant Bill Morosco with UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma.

By Bill Morosco (Florida)

University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma has won over 800 games at the college level – eight National Championships and fourteen Final Four appearances. Though Coach Auriemma is most known for motivational and recruiting skills, his success on building championship teams has also relied on his talent for teaching his players to be leaders.

I had the opportunity to meet and learn from the legendary University of Connecticut coach earlier this spring at the Nike Championship Basketball Clinic in Chicago. While the clinic focused on the fundamentals of coaching basketball, the sessions also gave me a chance to observe up close how Coach Auriemma teaches leadership and gets the most out of his teams.

Be a People Person. Coach Auriemma said that one of the most important keys to his success is being a people person. You have to understand what motivates each individual person and how to harness that inspiration to get them to do what’s best for the team.

The same holds true for fraternities and other student organizations. All of your members have different strengths and motivations. It is your job as a leader in the chapter to understand your members’ motivation and to cultivate those desires to help them reach their personal goals as well as the chapter’s group goals.

ESPN Sigma Nu logoBe Realistic. Coach Auriemma says “It doesn’t matter how many plays you run if your players can’t shoot. You still won’t score.” You need to understand your situation and limitations and decide what a realistic vision of success looks like. A leader needs to know what his or her team is capable of.

It might be unlikely that your chapter can produce weekly alumni newsletters if your chapter has never created one before. Set goals that will improve your chapter but make sure they are attainable. This will build confidence and keep the chapter moving towards bigger and better things instead of causing frustration and low morale by failing to reach an unrealistic goal.

Treat People Equally. Auriemma believes in treating his players equally. He has his forwards and centers do the same dribbling and shooting drills as his guards to build a more diversified offense and to improve each player’s skill set.

Treating team members equally is important for a fraternity. Give each chapter member/officer the same set of expectations. If a 3.0 GPA is required to be an officer in your chapter, why not make it a requirement to be a general member in good standing? This will help hold your members to a higher yet achievable standard and better improve the entire chapter.

Constant Gentle Pressure. Coach Auriemma described his approach to the yearly development of each of his teams as constant gentle pressure. Similar to Coach Knight, Auriemma ups the ante in every practice, making each session more challenging than the previous one – all while making sure the drills are relevant to the team’s mission to play championship basketball.

“It doesn’t matter how many plays you run if your players can’t shoot. You still won’t score.”

At the chapter level, this concept can be used to get the most out of all officers and committees. If committee deadlines are strictly monitored and constantly enforced, chapter officers will be ready for greatness when it’s time to complete Pursuit of Excellence documentation and award applications.

Do Everything at Game Speed. During practices, Coach Auriemma has his players do every drill with the same speed and intensity that they would do in a game. This increases the focus, effort, intensity and results of each practice and makes the game just as hard if not easier than practice.

Have your officers run their committee meetings just like they would a chapter meeting. This way chapter officers know exactly how to present in chapter and committee members better understand their role in the larger meeting.

Own What You Teach. Auriemma also talks about the flaws in trying to teach things you don’t fully understand. If you don’t fully understand the topic, the first question when adversity hits could derail the entire operation. Become an expert, study and learn how to apply what you want to teach in every situation.

Similarly, if you find an idea you really like in the Best Practices Library, be sure to reach out to the chapter that created it to ask questions to fully understand the material. If your Leadership Consultant brought up a great idea during his visit, follow up with him to get additional advice on implementing the new approach.

Have Contingency Plans. For the NCAA Tournament or other conference tournaments, Coach Auriemma likes to plan as if what he wants to do won’t work. For instance, Auriemma is known for drawing up three different ways to start each play, just in case the first approach doesn’t work.

At some point, something you wanted to do – be it a social, philanthropy, or chapter retreat – won’t work. So always have a backup plan.

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