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8 Leadership Lessons from the Memphis Grizzlies 14-15 Season

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Last summer I moved from Chicago to Memphis. One of the ways I wanted to make Memphis home was to get engaged in the local sports scene. Nothing speaks more to commitment than becoming a season ticket holder which is what I did with the Memphis Grizzlies. What I didn’t realize was how watching this team throughout the season would teach me great lessons on leadership.

Here are some of my takeaways from watching this past season of the 55 win season that the Memphis Grizzlies had:

  1. Always be on the front lines with your team. If you watched Head Coach David Joerger during games, he barely sat in his chair. You could always see him on the floor with his team coaching, inspiring, and looking to identify all opportunities that could benefit his team. He called timeouts at the right time, brought out the right players at the key moments, and benched the people he needed to, in order to maximize his talent roster. In addition, he looked for opportunities to upgrade talent throughout the season where he saw weaknesses and added 3 new players to the team including Jeff Green, Russ Smith, and JaMychal Green.

  2. Before demanding greatness from others, demand it from yourself. Take a look at Marc Gasol who is the leader of the team and the personal transformation he went through last summer. He went to Spain worked on conditioning and his diet to lose a significant amount of weight and build more stamina. That decision helped him significantly improve not only his performance, but the performance of his overall team. As a leader on the team, he couldn’t demand more of the players on his team without him stepping him and doing more himself. Due to his transformation, he went from 14.6 PPG to 17.4 PPG, 47.3 FG% to 49.4%, 76.8 FT% to 79.5%, and 7.2 Rebounds to 7.8 Rebounds.

  3. Give your very best regardless of your competition. If you look at many of the games that the Memphis Grizzlies lost during the season, most of them were against teams they should have been able to beat, but only lost due to mentally not being focused on the game and not giving their very best at those games. You must play every game as though you are being measured on your full potential and not who you compete against. If you look back, having more wins would have had a meaningful impact on seeding and quite possibly helped them advance to the next round. Never ever underestimate your competition.

  4. Communicate consistently and be ready to make immediate changes. Memphis Grizzlies have great communication on and off the court. Being able to address missed opportunities, adjusting the starting lineup after the addition of Jeff Green and Tony Allen, constantly demanding more from your team mates, and holding each other accountable. Overall they had such great communication, that they knew in almost all cases where their team mate would be so they can maximize open looks and score. These are all keys to improving performance, having an energetic productive team, as well as a constantly evolving environment.

  5. It’s about mindset and "believing". When Memphis beat Portland to get to the 2nd round of the semi-finals most of the media attention called for the Golden State to sweep the Memphis Grizzlies. Success happens with believing that you can achieve and tuning out the naysayers around you. They chose not to listen to the media and fought back with 2 back to back wins taking a lead in the series 2-1. It all started with what most people thought was impossible winning at Golden State’s home court which they only lost 2 games the entire season. There’s a reason why optimistic people are more successful than pessimistic people. It’s because optimistic people believe they can achieve something which drives more action, whereas pessimistic people don’t believe it’s possible and always give up easily. This was the exact mindset of this Memphis team with having a win on their mind "no matter what".

  6. Be ready to make sacrifices for the good of the team. Look at the personal challenges Mike Conley went through with getting injured in the 1st round of the playoffs and having multiple facial fractures. Most in that situation would call it the end of the season, but not Mike Conley who fought back, not only for himself but for his team that truly needed him after a blow out loss in the first game of the 2nd round series. Just 8 days from surgery, still recovering and knowing he wasn’t back at a 100%, dealing with constant pain, and against the advice from his family he was fitted for a mask and played in Game 2 delivering 22 points and winning the game. He made a decision to fight back regardless of what he was personally going through because he knew his team needed him. He used his heart and mental toughness to negotiate with his body for that strength.

  7. Find ways to contribute to your local community. Leadership is also about giving back and staying engaged with the community. The entire Memphis Grizzlies organization has always done an excellent job with many local causes and charities including St Jude Children’s Hospital. All the players and coaching staff do a great job with the local community including Zach Randolph. Among some of the areas he’s supported this past season include donating money to 100 families to keep power and heat on, 450 Thanksgiving meals, and giving 300 tickets away at the first home game of the playoffs.

  8. Are focused on winning even after they lose. If you listened to Marc Gasol’s post-game interview minutes after their playoff season ending loss there were 2 things that stood out. He held himself accountable and apologized for letting his team down. He didn’t shoulder blame on other players or use injuries as an excuse. He also talked about the steps he took last summer to get better and said if he wants to be the player he knows he can be, he has to take the next step and continue that development this summer. Leaders focus on continually developing themselves even after they lose, because they have a mindset to be the best that they know they have the potential to be. Leaders accept responsibility and don’t spend time focusing on the failure, instead they focus on solutions to ensure that they don’t face similar failures.