What Butler’s Final Four Appearance Can Teach Us About Competition and Leadership

 Anyone who’s watching the NCAA basketball tournament and was watching on Saturday saw Butler pull out a huge win over Florida in overtime to move on the the Final Four.  This isn’t their first trip to the Final Four. Last year they were not only in the Final Four but in the National Championship game.

As someone who went to college and grad school in Indiana, Butler University is a familiar name to me just not as a basketball powerhouse.  They are a school of 4,500 students in Indianapolis.

Florida has 50,000.  Before beating Florida, they knocked out Wisconsin and #1 ranked Pitt, the odds-on favorite for many to win the tourney.
What can Butler teach us about being competitive when others have more people, deeper pockets, more supporters and a legacy of winning?

 They have a clear, burning goal — to win.

  • They believe in their ability to achieve that goal. Butler’s star senior is a guy named Matt Howard.  People say he doesn’t look like a star player.  He’s described as ‘a hell of a basketball player with a weird skill set and surprising strength.’It’s said his teammates say he is quirky.  He’s also describes as someone you always believes they are capable of winning in any situation. And that adamant belief causes other to believe, too.
  • You don’t need a lot of people, you need the right people. They are a school of 4,500 people.  They are not a marquee name in the world of college sports (though I’m sure that’s changing).  Yet, they found and cultivated the group of talented athletes that have made it past teams 10X their size.
  • They persevere. In those four tournament games they’ve won up to this point, they’ve beaten their opponents by only 13 total points.   They overcame an 11 point second half deficit to win against Florida.
  • Strong, strategy-focused leadership adds to competitive advantage. The Butler coach, Brad Stevens, is 34 years old and this is his second trip to the Final Four.  He is measured and balanced in his approach.  He has a strategy for the game and plays to that strategy.
  • They work as a team. Trite, I know.  They are a basketball team after all. But not all team sports revolve around the team.  Look at some players in professional sports teams and it often seems the play is about shining their light the brightest, not shining a bright light on the team.  As Nick Fasulo or Beyond the Arc said when comparing Butler to the last non-BCS team to be in the Final Four, UNLV in the early 90’s Instead, “[Butler] is the embodiment of a overachieving group of athletes dedicated to one single goal, led by one of the brightest and boldest coaches in all of sports.” They are a clear example the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

Go Bulldogs!

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