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Nov
29

The Greatest Leader in Sports History

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Many elite leaders are born with the ability to command respect from their peers and direct their teams to victory. Others develop their leadership skills through life’s daily challenges. They face tremendous odds and over-come trials and tribulations that build mental toughness. Both are effective and are worth following. However, I have gained the most respect for self-made leaders that succeed through perseverance and an unwavering commitment to excellence.

Bill Russell is acknowledged as the greatest winner in the history of team sports. He won two high school state championships, two NCAA titles at the University of San Francisco, an Olympic gold medal and eleven NBA rings as a member of the Boston Celtics. Not bad for a guy that was cut from his junior varsity basketball team in high school. His remarkable story serves as a reminder that anyone can develop leadership skills through the power of persistence and an unselfish, team-oriented approach.

Last month, I was privileged to share breakfast with Hall-of-Famer Bill Russell and I was awed by his journey from a mediocre high school basketball player to a man that led his team to sixteen championships as a prep, collegiate, Olympian and professional player over a nineteen year span. Bill is the expert at collecting championship rings, hoisting trophies and cutting down nets and I asked for his three most important keys to successful leadership.

Mr. Russell answered my question by saying, “From day one, I was thrilled to be part of the team. My junior year in high school, we won the California State Championship and I did not play a single minute during the entire tournament. I was so excited that I did not sleep for three straight nights prior to our final game. As long as we won, I was completely happy. Great leaders sincerely care about the team and winning.”

“Another key is that leaders search for ways to make their teammates better. There are ten players on the court and there is only one basketball. That means that you only touch the ball 10% of the game. The best way I could help my team was to block shots, rebound, set screens on offense and pass the ball. I learned that my job was to dominate my role as a support player and make my teammates look good.”

“Last,” he said, “I always tried to set an example for my teammates as a role model. My leadership standard was to never do anything that would embarrass my mother and father. I wanted to be a leader worth following.”

Bill Russell started his career at the end of the bench. He did not care about scoring points or personal accolades. He wanted to be part of a winning team and it helped forge an obsession with pursuing championships and making his teammates better. His winning leadership game plan was focused on his love for the team, building his teammates and displaying high character standards at all times. Bill Russell is the greatest leader in the history of team sports.

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