Pat Summitt, the recently deceased former coach of the University of Tennessee’s Lady Vols basketball team, has been praised in virtually every media outlet as the most successful coach in college basketball (male or female teams).
Her obituary in the New York Times points out her 8 national championships and her 1098 victories for the Lady Vols. And in an article from Fox Sports written by @Sam_Gardner it’s pointed out that of the 161 players Summitt coached, 54 are now coaches themselves. Another 36 people who worked with Summitt in other roles (graduate assistants, managers, operations directors and others) are also basketball coaches now. To say that Summitt’s legacy and her impact on college sports is far-reaching and will continue to be felt for decades is an understatement. She literally changed college sports.
I was lucky to meet Summitt a few times when we lived in Knoxville. I heard her speak a dozen times, at least, and shared a luncheon table with her more than once. The thing I saw prominent in her was her laser-like focus on others. She was an encourager and developer of people. Whether the person she was with had ever touched a basketball or not, she could not help being genuinely interested in that person’s development. And in that trait lies her one secret to success. She cared deeply about the person, far more than she cared what that person could do for her team. She developed women athletes as leaders first and as basketball players second. She didn’t use the student athlete and then let them go. She stayed with them till the end.
This one secret to success is born out by the fact that every single player who ever played for Pat Summitt graduated from college. Every. Single. One. No other college coach can come close to that record. She was bound and determined that her players were seen as people first, young women who would lead a life after their glory years playing basketball, even if they went pro after leaving Summitt. She cared more about the person than just what the person could do for her team.
As entrepreneurs and small business owners, we can take a lesson from this mighty woman. As much as she knew basketball like no one else, Pat Summitt’s one secret to success was that she cared more for the person than she did about what that person could do for her. She is quoted many times as saying, “You win through other people.” After 4 decades of coaching and all her success, here’s what she remembers, “I won 1,098 games, and eight national championships, and coached in four different decades. But what I see are not the numbers. I see their faces.”
Deep caring develops long-term leaders and short-term winners. Summitt's secret to success was caring for her players as people first, as players second. How can you do the same in your own business? How can you lead so that team members and customers know you care more about them than about what they can do for you?
Here’s a 4 minute video of Summitt coaching her team in the locker room at the half time of a critical game. It shows her complete dedication to her work and to her team.