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What The Raptors Taught Me About Winning And Losing In Business

03/14/2016 02:25 EDT | Updated 03/15/2017 05:12 EDT
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Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) drives the basket as New York Knicks guard Langston Galloway (2) gets by a pick by Raptors' Bismack Biyombo during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

I've been writing sports metaphors for years. When you're in the business of designing training for managers, leaders and sales people in big organizations across North America, the language of sports is unavoidable. Take the concept of coaching alone and you've got material for miles.

Up until this year, I wrote these metaphors without much heart behind them. As a woman growing up in the city, I was immersed in art and culture and left sports to the jocks. But over the past few years something changed: I started watching the Raptors, this year more than ever. As I watched DeRozan shoot, Scola rebound and Biyombo block and night after night, it hit me like a ton of bricks. This game (and every other, I'm sure) is ripe with lessons on how to make an impact in business. It was as if I was seeing it all for the first time, with new eyes. So here's what I've learned so far, with a fresh sense of discovery and a whole lot of heart.

An Easy Way to Spot Leadership

There are many different theories on what makes a great leader in business, from vision, to charisma, to being 'leader-as-servant'. On this point the men in red brought me back to basics. When he joined the Raptors in 2012, I'm told that Lowry had an attitude. His talent was often overshadowed by his stubbornness, by the way he would berate other players on the team when they missed. It wasn't until he started to show up with a respect for his team and a desire to help others get better that he evolved into the visible leader he is today.

One of the most fundamental behaviours in leadership is to model the values that you want to see in others. It's easy when you're talented to want to keep on taking shots at the net and feeling hard done by when you don't get what you want. But by modelling values like respect, hard work and teamwork, you automatically up the game for everyone around you.

Performance Is In The Numbers

Basketball, like most sports, is data-driven. Coaches receive nearly real-time updates on every stat imaginable, from turnovers to defensive rebounds to points in the paint. They use this information in combination with what they see on the court to make all their decisions, from which players to sub out, to the plays that they'll put in motion at a time out. It's staggering really. Coach Casey historically didn't rely heavily on stats, although it seems he's started to in recent years. And the Raptors are playing better, which isn't quite cause and effect but it's worth pointing out.

Now a data-driven approach is finally coming to fruition in business. Google is leading the revolution by applying the same analytic rigour of basketball to employees. The tech giant is using numbers for all kinds of things including to predict who will be successful in their organization and how to retain top talent. If basketball is any indication, it's going to bring results.

Greatness is Also About How You Miss

LeBron missed from the free-throw line when the Raptor's played the Cavaliers in November last year. I couldn't believe it, how could one of the greatest players of all time miss such an easy shot? Months later, in February the Raptors played the Timberwolves. Coming off their record-breaking 11-game winning streak, Kyle Lowry seemed asleep at the wheel. He ended up scoring 14 points that game, I was left wondering what went wrong. But exasperation soon gave way to inspiration, because this is exactly the thing with humans: we can't make every shot.

Careers are built over seasons, not in a single game. These players are All-Stars because over time, despite their misses, they outperform. When you miss, how quickly can you regain focus and win again? Recently the Raptors faced the Cavaliers for the third time this season, and Lowry scored a mind-blowing 43 points. Because after having an off day, that's what an All-Star does.

Money Talks, Loudly

DeRozan, my favourite player, will become a free agent this summer; his contract's up. The Lakers have made it no secret that they want him and are willing to pay. Naive and curious, I asked my walking basketball reference library Deryck how it works. 'Have players ever stayed loyal to a team they love even if they don't make the highest offer?' I wondered. 'Essentially no,' he said. 'Maybe once or twice, like with Michael Jordan, but things were different back then. Players today go where the money is.' So there it is. In business too, money talks. Depending on your outlook this lesson can feel as trite and cynical as it is true. I would turn it around and call it liberating. Because in an environment that's increasingly complex, the dollar is a simple note to follow.

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Photo: Mark Runyon | BasketballSchedule.net

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