Whether it’s in sports or in business, people generally like to connect themselves with winners. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that most people filling out their brackets for March Madness office pools are predicting Kentucky to emerge as the eventual champion.

During this special time of the year, when much of our country fixates on college basketball, I can’t help but notice that there are a handful of schools that put powerhouse teams on the floor year after year. They have developed programs that consistently allow them to be numbered among the best. Certainly Kentucky is included in that elite group.

This is what leaders in business strive for as well. There is no greater indicator of success than to have your company ranked as one of the leaders in your industry over the long haul. It is not an easy feat in business or in sports.

I find it interesting that many of the coaches who lead talented college teams write books discussing their approach to leadership. John Calipari, the coach of the Kentucky Wildcats, officially crossed over into the business world with his 2010 bestseller, “Bounce Back: Overcoming Setbacks to Succeed in Business and in Life.”

How many authors release a book that is endorsed by both LeBron James, an NBA MVP, and Ken Blanchard, bestselling author of “The One Minute Manager”?

Let’s look at how the wisdom of some successful college basketball coaches might apply to our game plans in business, starting with Calipari.

They knew we cared about them individually. I believe that gave them an even greater ability to care about each other – to be fully invested as teammates.

This is from Calipari’s book, “Players First: Success from the Inside Out.” If you’re familiar with my teaching, you know that to create an amazing customer experience, it needs to start with your employees. In many ways, I believe this is the same principle that is at the heart of what Calipari expresses here.

For a variety of reasons, employees need to know that you care about them. Calipari points out that this attribute provides the foundation for them to care about each other. For the customers who walk through your door to receive the level of service that they expect and are entitled to, your employees must be working together as team members who will always support one another.

If you’ve played schoolyard basketball, you are probably familiar with the “ball hog.” A championship team cannot afford a ball hog and neither can your workplace. We must understand our roles as individuals and be appreciated as individuals as we perform those roles. Mike Krzyzewski, the coach at Duke University since 1980 truly understands this:

To me, teamwork is the beauty of our sport, where you have five acting as one. You become selfless.

When a marketing team, or a team of cashiers, or a team of sales associates comes together and works as one, it’s an equally beautiful thing. It may seem somewhat counter-intuitive, but this kind of teamwork starts by recognizing and appreciating the individual.

I’ve framed this article by pointing to the success these kinds of college basketball programs have enjoyed over the years. However, all of the coaches and their teams have experienced some bitter defeats. Any business leader or athletic coach of any worth is intimately acquainted with failure. How we deal with failure is what separates the real winners from the average. To quote Calipari again:

I need people who look at adversity as a challenge and failure as a learning opportunity.

As the coach of a team or as a leader in business, those in your charge will get their clues about how to react to adversity by how you handle it. I love the image of the basketball coach who is trailing in the final seconds of the game. He has the team circle up while he calmly goes over what they will do next. If they lose, it gives the players more inspiration at practice in the following days.

Related to that is the reaction a team gets from its fans and sports writers after a loss. It can be painful. The criticism can be just as harsh in the business world. Legendary UCLA coach John Wooden gave us the best prescription on how to handle these situations when he said:

You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.

Did you catch that? Not only do you need to let the criticism roll off your back – don’t take the praise you receive too seriously either. Both, Wooden said, are weaknesses. In business, regarding our successes too highly can cause us to rest on our previous achievements, become self-possessed, and cease to recognize the contributions of others; each is toxic in its own way.

All of the coaches referred to here have had long and successful careers. Just like basketball, the best companies have great leadership and a superb team of employees. Regardless of the size of the company, these employees in many different departments and many times from multiple locations, work together to achieve a win. They know their role. They know where to contribute. No single person or department is a “ball hog.” In business, as in basketball, it takes great leadership and teamwork to achieve and maintain success.

Article by Shep Hyken as seen on Forbes.com

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