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Effective Leadership – What Basketball Coaches & Sales Directors Have in Common


We are lucky enough to have a former NBA player grace the ranks of our sales team, John Coker, and he has recently been promoted to Global Director of Sales. In light of the recently ended March Madness and current NBA playoffs, we decided to sit down with him to see how his insights from pro sports have translated to becoming a sales leader.

One common thread: in both sales and pro basketball, having a great coach makes the biggest difference.

Good Coaches Balance Inspiration and Positivity

Effective coaching mixes both positive reinforcement and the “tough talk” needed to inspire action. When coaches are able to hit this balance, they can make their star players even better while inspiring loyalty among their team.

A key to this strategy is taking the time to point out when someone does something commendable. “When they give you instruction and you can see yourself getting better and they take the time to recognize that, positive reinforcement is really beneficial.”

Being a Sales Leader Requires Commitment to and Compassion for the Team

Coaches need to demonstrate that they care not just about outcomes but also the well-being of the people who drive those outcomes. Everyone should share a common goal, so selfishness and immature behavior never really enter the picture. In the words of our former NBA player: “Usually with a great leader, Ego is nonexistent.”

Negativity tends to motivate animosity and a revenge mentality among players rather than a drive towards collective progress. Only by inspiring people and managing them as a counselor would can a coach get personalities to blend.

One of the hardest things to find, though, are coaches who lead by example, people who “would make you want to work really hard because they were working so hard.” When a coach can show what hard work truly looks like and how it directly leads to positive outcomes, they are not just teaching through words but also through actions. Sales reps and players alike can stop wondering what putting words into action might look like once they have direct examples like these.

Give People Confidence and Comfort During “Game Time” Through Regular Practice

“Practice is practice. That’s the grind,” says our star player. “The game is not the time for instruction.” At that point, skills should have been repeated and refined so many times that quality play comes natural. If players are thinking about fundamentals, they lose focus on the in-the-moment strategy changes they need to beat their opponent. “If you believe you are a little off, it’s just like golf and you’re a mess.”

In the same way, sales reps need coaching and sales training exercises like role playing so that they have their head 100 percent focused on the moment when the time comes. That way, they can adapt their strategy or just execute what they know is the right move to find their success. Even if the person fails, they know they failed because they have something new to learn rather than because they had not prepared enough.

So by taking opportunities for positive reinforcement, demonstrating that they actually care about the team, avoiding negativity and focusing on building core skills, sales managers, NBA coaches and nearly everyone else in the world can give their team the tools they need to find success almost every time.


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