What Villanova Basketball Can Teach Us About Managing Reputation

By | April 4, 2016

novaLet me start with an important disclosure: I am an unabashed Villanova Fan, a card carrying Wildcat for Life. So I am biased when I say Villanova is the absolute best basketball team in the country this year, no matter what happens tonight. But that bias doesn’t make the reputation lessons offered by Villanova any less relevant.

The concept that team sports serve as a good foundation for leadership in business isn’t a new one.  MWW’s client and Deloitte CEO Cathy Englebert summed it all up very nicely in a Forbes blog this weekend. Team sports develop leadership skills, tenacity, focus and work ethic. They teach you to put a larger goal ahead of yourself, to work as a team.

But what can team sports teach us about reputation?  And more specifically, what could many organizations learn from Villanova Basketball?

  1. Values Matter – Villanova is a cornerstone of the Big East tradition, a conference made up largely of Catholic Schools whose values permeate the educational environment and the sports environment too. Wildcats tap a sign that says “attitude” as they leave the locker room. They commit to being part of a community for life, not just for the span of their collegiate career. They play for the name on the front of the jersey, not for the name on the back. This team has been described as “hungry and humble” – and that is what the coaches, administration and the fans expect. Players and coaches live the Villanova values every day. This is something you see throughout the Big East – like when Nova’s archrival Georgetown did this for a player whose career ended too soon. Or when Villanova cleared the bench in the final moments of the game in recognition of the important contribution of every member of the team.
  2. Leadership Counts – Jay Wright’s selection as coach of the year is no accident. He models the “humble and hungry” you see in his players. He is clear about his mission – to help every young man excel as an athlete, a student and a man who lives for others. Notice nothing in his mission is about winning games. He expects his player to do everything they do the same way – “go hard” and do it together. You can get a peek at Coach Wright’s style away from the hardwood in this speech he gave about leadership to the Villanova leadership conference, which centers on doing the right thing for the right reason.
  3. The Importance of Finishing What You Start – Villanova has a 100 percent athletics graduation rate. And that level of commitment to finishing what you start shows on the basketball court. It’s why a team that is up by 10, 20, 30 even 40 points keeps playing defense like they are down 2. It’s why they have incredibly high shooting percentages. And it’s why you saw very little celebration after a decisive victory against Oklahoma – because this team is keyed in on the end goal.
  4. Culture is a Game Changerrecruiting for culture, before skills is something we hear a lot about in corporate America – but should it be a criteria for recruiting D1 scholarship athletes? For Villanova it is. They talk about recruiting players who want a Villanova education, and want to play college basketball. There are no “stars” on the Villanova team, it is always about the team. And they view the contribution to the team by criteria that isn’t reflected on the scoreboard. When it is time to cut down the net, the last cut is traditionally completed by the Coach or the “star player” – Villanova has had players who rarely see the court making that final cut if that player embodies the culture of Villanova better than anyone else.

I’d love to see a Wildcat win tonight…it’s been a long time since Villanova won a National Championship. But win or lose, this is a program that stands for something greater. At a time when the debates are raging about compensation of student athletes, this is a program that remains true to the NCAA’s mission of supporting student-athletes, and making sure they become great people…not just great competitors.

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