March Madness has descended upon us. The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is an interesting phenomenon. Consider the fact that one of the bracket challenges included over 11 million entries and you get a pretty good indication that the word “phenomenon” is not an overstatement. For college basketball fans, it just doesn’t get any better than this.
If you have never completed a bracket, you have missed a great opportunity to explore the fine art and science of decision-making. All across the world, people trek online, log in and predict the winners. Maybe you’re old school. That’s not a problem. Spread out the newspaper bracket on a kitchen table and fill in the winners and losers. Wannabe athletes and coaches study the numbers, look for trends and try to determine who’s hot and who’s not. Will a team peak early or late? You make the prediction. The experience is filled with fun and heartbreak. The obvious goal is to successfully trim the field down to the champion. But, there are may other lessons to learn along the way.
Decision-Making is Complex. The tournament provides a rich illustration of the complexity of decision-making. It sounds simple enough to pick a champion. But, what about predicting the details of the journey? After a couple of rounds in the tourney there were “zero” perfect brackets. That’s worth repeating. Out of millions of people who recorded educated guesses about the games, not a single person correctly predicted the outcome of all the games in the first two rounds. Analysis of that stat doesn’t require a mathematician or a complex equation. The bottom line is sufficient. Despite the deluge of information and commentary about which teams should win, it’s tough to get it all right. What’s the takeaway leadership lesson? If you are expecting to get every decision right, you will paralyze your organization. It’s important to acknowledge complexity, learn how to make the best decisions and move forward. Decision-making is complex, but you can survive and advance.
Enjoy of the journey. Did 11 million fans stop watching the tournament? Despite all of the busted brackets, players continue to play and fans continue to watch the games. That’s because most fans have discovered the love of the game. There is joy in the journey independent of the final outcome. It’s a valuable lesson. Life is filled with decisions. Some are large and weighty and others hold less significance in the grand scheme of life. Healthy leaders remember to find joy in the journey and learn to fail forward. The final score of the game is only one part of the story. In every game, both winners and losers make shots and celebrate smaller wins. You must learn to do the same. Listen to some of the terms that swirl around the NCAA Tournament and you get a feel for how emotionally charged the atmosphere becomes. Remember, the tournament is called “Madness”. Some teams are referred to as “Cinderella” and others are tagged as “Giant Slayers”. The steps toward the championship are called “Sweet”, “Great” and “Final”. Face it, the “Big Dance” is an emotional endeavor and so is leadership. Some days you will need to remind yourself to appreciate the richness of life experiences apart from the numbers on the scoreboard. Enjoy the journey.
Stay Humble. If you have ever predicted an outcome and then watched in sheer amazement as the game went the other way, you understand why it’s important to stay humble. Millions of brackets were busted this year by a game that seemed like a “sure thing”. It’s humbling to miss the mark. However, great leaders understand that humility is much deeper than missing a projection and uttering the words, “I was wrong.” Humility is a virtue. It’s a deep character trait essential for transformational leadership. Humility is a reminder that life is a team sport. Leadership is never just about one player on the court. Stay humble.
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