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The 5 Elements of Leading an Impactful Life

Everything you need to know about life can be found on the basketball court.

Written BY

Michael Thompson

Michael Thompson is a prolific writer on Medium with more than 28K followers. Michael is also the in-house editor for Entrepreneur's Handbook, a regular writer for Fast Company, Business Insider and Inc, and has attained Top Writer status on Medium in several different tags.

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May 18, 2020

The 5 Elements of Leading an Impactful Life: Through The Lens of My 80-year-old Father

My father worked for more than 50 years in a variety of leadership capacities that took him all over the globe. Throughout his career, he took notes on the behaviours and attributes that he believed enabled professional and personal success.

On a recent phone call, while discussing these traits, he said something that piqued my curiosity: “Everything you need to know about leading an impactful life can be found on the basketball court.”

I asked him to explain, and I’m glad I did. The words that came next blew me away. Here’s what he told me:

1. Hustle and commitment matter

Life is short. We don’t have a day to waste. On balance, you cannot win at basketball if you do not get up and down the court faster than your opponent. Offence and defence demand equal intensity. Hustle distinguishes impact players from the rest.

If we are standing still waiting for something to happen or giving less than our full measure of intensity, we aren’t relevant. It’s the same in life. Victory builds upon itself in untold ways, while indecisiveness and hesitation open the door to defeat.

2. Operating outside one’s comfort zone becomes a force multiplier

Good players dribble with both hands with equal competency. They execute layups and close-in rebound shots with the same flexibility. None of this comes easy. Dribbling or executing a layup with your non-dominant arm is not a natural response, but it can be achieved with grit, determination and hours of practice. Those attributes ultimately facilitate the confidence to execute.

Life is as unkind to a one-dimensional athlete as it is to people who listen to only what they want to hear and read only that which reinforces preconceived notions regardless of validity.

3. Overcoming the fear of failure opens doors

The Brazilian author Paulo Coehlo wrote that “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” Teams with better players can and do lose to teams with less talent. This happens when more talented players hesitate with the ball when they have an opportunity to pass to an open player, shoot, or drive to the basket.

That emboldens the defence and saps momentum. My father told me that one of his most insightful experiences came while recently watching a college player badly miss her first shot in front of her team and home fans. But she wasn’t too embarrassed or intimidated to try again. She came right back, and her next shot was a perfect three-pointer. That shot changed the momentum of the game. Coehlo would applaud her as he noted: “The secret of life is to fall seven times and to get up eight times. Because the eighth time could be your breakthrough.”

4. Situational awareness creates opportunity

Players who make a difference are those who know what they are going to do with the ball before it comes to them and where they should be on the court to make things happen. They know intuitively if they are going to shoot, to whom they are going to pass or if they are going to attempt a steal. This intuition comes from intense study of the game, experience, and conviction.

Wayne Gretzky, arguably the best hockey player to play the game, said that the key to his success was that he skated to where the puck was “going to be” as opposed to skating to where it was. Impact players anticipate and seize opportunities that others cannot envision at the time. Whether on the court or in the workplace, we create our own luck by intense observation of what is going on around us and by the intensity of our commitment. With that comes the potential to play with boldness and audacity.

5. Selflessness is critical to superior team performance and meaningful personal growth

Basketball players with superior situational awareness and commitment feed the open teammate or one with an opportunity to score. They strive to make teammates look good and do not worry about who gets the credit. They balance audacious play with unwavering trust in their teammates. They do not worry about how many points they have scored. When it comes to doubling down on defence, they proactively give the full measure. In short, impact players sacrifice on the court.

Teams win when individual members willingly put aside their personal interests to the larger interests of the team. It is the same in life. Everyone wins when we support and recognize those around us, when we consider and trust in their talents and potential, and when we are generous in spirit. Life is a team sport, and selflessness, much like humility, is an essential ingredient to human growth and personal fulfilment on and off the court.

Further Reading
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