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Business Lessons from the Court

What do the NBA and your business have in common? More than you might expect, from bench play to developing winning game plans and more. At the core of each are competitiveness, teamwork, innovation and a results-driven focus.

As the NBA Playoffs kick into high gear, there are business lessons to be observed from all the on-the-court chaos. Here are four lessons to help you make a slam dunk toward success:

1.     Build a deeper bench.

Going into the 2014 Playoffs, two of the top seeds in the west, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers, prove to be top contenders based on their bench strength and exceptional development of players. With the Thunder’s dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook holding down the front lines, not to mention Serge Ibaka stepping up defensively, this team has the star power to go all the way. Meanwhile, L.A. has an electric team with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin running the show, but Danny Granger, Darren Collison and Jamal Crawford offer offensive explosion coming off the bench.

What these two teams are doing right is building star-quality players as part of a greater strategy to building depth. Businesses operate within the same parameters. In a competitive market, companies with a strong all-around workforce ultimately will win. You won’t always have your LeBron James available, so it is important to have a multitude of transcendent talent to fill in the gaps.

2.     Stick to the game plan.

Basketball is an unpredictable game; just when you seem so sure of the outcome, an unlikely team steps up and takes home the championship. No story is better than the 1980-81 Houston Rockets, who against poor season rankings and what seemed like impossible odds, made it to the NBA Finals. That’s what is so great about the game: Cinderella stories do exist.

The reason teams like that season’s Rockets succeed is not just luck; rather, they know who they are and they stick to their game plan. Business is no different. While new market trends are distracting (because we all want the best new thing), the companies who stick to their guns and stay true to who they are the ones left cheering when the confetti falls.

3.     Take ownership of your actions.

Even if you’re not a basketball fan, the buzz around Blake Griffin’s recent incident hasn’t fallen on deaf ears. On April 20, the Clippers superstar dumped a cup of water on a Golden State Warriors fan after fouling out of the game (whether accidental or intentional, I’ll leave that up to you). Regardless, it happened, and now more than ever, Griffin has become the target of unwanted media attention.

In basketball, much like in business, the most common momentum killer is negative actions taken by leadership. Griffin’s statement of “I apologize, it was water,” left something to be desired from a supposed leader.

People within your organization look up to its leaders, and their actions are often scrutinized because they are under a microscope to a multitude of stakeholders. You will be surprised how productivity improves when leaders make the slightest adjustment to those actions.

4.     Find motivation in your losses as well as your wins.

After a devastating game-one loss, the Chicago Bulls have a lot of work to do if they want to remain in the series. This time, the unlikely Washington Wizards pulled out a win after six years of missing the playoffs. While the loss was major, it won’t prevent the Bulls from knocking off a win; after all, there are six games to come.

According to last year’s playoff standings, the team that lost the first game won the second. The Bulls know this all too well: After shocking the Miami Heat with a victory right out of the gate, the Heat came right back with a 37-point victory over the Bulls in game two. In short, it’s not over till it’s over.

Like the Heat, businesses should see loss as an opportunity for growth. It is okay to be proud of your victories, but don’t be ashamed of your defeats. Instead, learn from mistakes and change your approach to see different results.