Speaking Engagements
NBA Career

Pro-Style Leadership


Pat Riley was my coach with the New York Knicks and he was an elite, high-level leader. He demanded the constant pursuit of excellence from each of his players and losing was never an option. In his first season as the head coach in New York, he increased our win total by 11 games and built the Knicks into one of the NBA’s premier teams.

Riley’s leadership was on full display after a particularly disturbing home loss to an excellent Indiana team. The Knicks controlled the game until a fourth quarter collapse and we handed the Pacers a gift-wrapped victory. It was easy to justify the loss against a talented opponent in the middle of a grueling 82-game schedule, until we saw how devastated our coach was in the locker room. He sat in front of the television to break-down the game film. His suit coat was slung over the chair next to him and he held the remote control in his right hand and the box score in his left. No words were spoken.

The next morning, the players filtered into the locker room to begin preparations for that evening’s game. We were shocked to see our coach had not moved from his position in front of the television and he was wearing the exact same outfit as the previous night. This was not the GQ version of Pat Riley. His face was unshaven, he had puffy, blood-shot eyes and his well coiffed hair looked messy and unkempt. Had he really spent the entire night in the locker room watching the game film?

Riley stood before the team and delivered the following powerful words, “I have studied the game film from last night and I am 100 percent convinced of three things; we will improve, we will win and it will start right now.” He ejected the VHS tape and promptly threw it into the trash can. He had a renewed energy in his voice as he told the team that we were starting fresh and he listed several teaching points on the board. He asked each player to provide one area they could help the team. Not surprisingly, the Knicks started a winning streak behind the guidance of their master motivator.

Riley was a Pro-Style Leader who searched for new strategies to inspire and build his team. I learned three valuable leadership lessons from Coach Riley.

Communicate the Vision – Riley’s motivational message was confident, decisive and made each of the players feel we were part of something special. He commanded our respect with his dedication and provided a game plan to guide the team in the direction of elite status. He was a committed role model with both his words and actions.

Innovate to Motivate – The antiquated leadership model from our youth embraced the old-school coaching philosophy to berate the players and conduct grueling practices as punishment for a poor performance. Riley was a creative leader who utilized motivational tactics to impact the team and leave a lasting impression. Most coaches would have yelled at their players, Pat Riley chose to provide inspiration instead.

Lead with Passion – Riley’s all-nighter set an incredible standard of passion and determination for his players to follow. He left no doubt that he was desperate to win and his hunger for improvement would not allow him to rest until our team reached its potential. If Riley spent the entire night studying game film, we needed to elevate our efforts and take immediate action.

Riley is among the greatest leaders and motivators in professional sports history, highlighted by five NBA championships and a place in the basketball Hall-of-Fame. He was a pro style leader with an unmatched ability to communicate, innovate and lead his teams with incredible desire and leadership.

Tim McCormick is a guest blogger for Smart Business. After a 10-year NBA career he now works with businesses and leaders under his ‘Game Plan’ for success, which focuses on the secrets that premier athletes use to reach their highest goals.

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