How Dean Smith created a culture of success with a little help from his friends

One of my fondest childhood memories is growing up in the Carolinas during the time of Dean Smith and his mighty TarHeel basketball program which ruled college basketball. Coach Smith has brought a lot of things to the game of basketball. Books, blogs, ESPN docs, and several other articles have and will continue to be written about this great man, and his contribution to the game of basketball. The question is how did he do it?

For many people that may not be a fan will dismiss him as just a great recruiter, after all Michael Jordan the greatest player the sport has ever seen played for Coach Smith. For others they’ll simply say he was a great tactician of the game. Just look at the early days of his four corners and how it compelled the introduction of the shot clock, they’ll say. I say he was all of those things, but way more than just that. He created a culture of winning through one simple gesture, the point.deanpointing

This simple, but profound gesture not only was a nicety expressed to the player who gave the assist, but was a declaration to everyone concerned that every success realized was because of more than just one member of the team. This mindset, this attitude, this way of thinking wasn’t just a passing thought, or motivation for players, but a reality that shaped the entire culture of the team. It was reinforced day in, and day out both on and off the court. As a young 11 year old boy I remember calling into his radio program once asking about recent struggles that JR Reid was having. First I thought it was incredibly gracious for him to take the call from an 11 year old, but beyond that his answer was profound.

He explained to me and the listening audience that JR was actually helping the team even more than before, but recent stats wouldn’t reflect it. He then proceeded to teach me, and everyone in the audience how by opposing teams double, and triple teaming JR in the post it left others like Jeff Lebo open in the parameter to score more easily. While JR’s numbers had personally dipped for a few games others had drastically increased. This was directly due to the great play, and presence of JR Reid. Coach Smith knew how to not only keep his players looking at the game in the right perspective, but the fans, the media, and the observers of the game.

Last night I attended the Wake Forest v/s Carolina game in Chapel Hill. It had been a while since I had been to a game at the Dean Smith Center. The attitude and training Coach Smith had on team play, and recognizing the assist was legendary, but not until last night did I realize how the whole culture was affected by it. After every dunk, after every lay up, after every fast break, or great shot made the announcer came on and declared basket by “shooters name”, and assist by “assisting team member”. The crowd of course went wild, and the player who passed the ball to the shooter, and made the assist had not only the shooter pointing back saying thanks, but the entire stadium pointing and offering recognition . deansmithandmichaeljordan

When coach Smith taught his shooters who made the basket to point back to the player who passed him the ball he sent ripples of gratitude through the culture of the program. He basically empowered his players to tell the media, fans, and other players to take notice of how this play was even made if you are going to look at me. So after every shot made, when the camera zoomed in on the shooter it captured the player pointing back at the team member who made it possible.

Like basketball, business requires a team with a culture that is designed to win. Winning for UNC started with the mindset of prioritizing not only the execution of the close, but the process that brought the pieces together to close. You may be the Michael Jordan in your organization, but the health & success of your organization will solely be on the value you put in your process. helpfrommyfriends

Like the Beatles once sang, “get by with a little help from your friends”. Here are some things you can do right now to help grow, and sustain your organizations success.

  1. Empower others to meet their potential
  2. Create a culture that rewards team play
  3. Focus others attention on the unnoticed things that brought success
  4. Reward & recognize others for their part

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