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  • Writer's pictureIan Galbraith

The Fundamentals are Key

John Wooden, the iconic UCLA basketball coach, began each season by imparting a seemingly elementary lesson to his players—properly putting on their socks and tying shoes. Picture the expressions of 18-year-old freshmen seated on the wooden benches at Pauley Pavilion, learning tasks they mastered at the age of five. The rationale behind this seemingly mundane lesson was the potential sidelining of a player due to blisters, which could significantly impact the team's success.

In business, parallels with sports abound, often leading to the overuse of sports analogies. I advocate for restraint in employing these analogies in your professional discourse. While the basics in business are vital for long-term success, they are frequently overlooked as they appear too rudimentary or "basic"l even though they have an outsize impact on the company's success. 

Foundational tools are often dismissed in favor of quick fixes or hacks. Although these fundamentals may seem unexciting in the short term, they yield substantial dividends in the future. True leaders demonstrate a thorough understanding and execution of fundamental business actions, such as delineating key roles and responsibilities within a company's leadership team.

After the [shoe tying] lesson, you ask one of the All‐American seniors what that was all about, and he says, “Get a blister in a big game, and you’re gonna suffer. Shoes come untied in a close game...well, that just never happens here.”

Great by Choice, Jim Collins and Morten Hansen

Running a small business often tempts entrepreneurs to be deeply involved in every aspect, wanting to touch, see, and feel every product or participate in every decision. However, this approach may result in leaders doing everything themselves, hindering their team's autonomy. Leaders must possess the self-assurance to discern where their involvement is essential and actually moves the needle.

A similar pitfall involves leaders participating in every critical decision, providing opinions on areas where they lack expertise. A mark of a genuine leader is recognizing one's strengths—typically the area where the business began—and having the confidence to rely on others' expertise when needed. Entrusting decisions to your team clearly demonstrate trust, fostering loyalty, commitment, and teamwork.

As the new year unfolds, I recommend company leaders schedule time to meet with their leadership team. Spend two to three hours articulating each leader's specific focus areas. Deliberate on what you enjoy, what you should cease doing, and areas where additional support is needed. Clearly define roles and responsibilities for each team member. After documenting all areas, share the plan with the leadership team, allowing time for reflection before finalizing decisions. Revisit the plan in two weeks to make any necessary amendments and updates. Share the finalized list with the broader team to clarify who is responsible for specific questions or decisions.

The concluding step in ensuring sustained success is for leaders to hold themselves and each other accountable. Self-confidence is critical; leaders should not fear judgment when deferring decisions to others. The paramount objective is making the right decisions. Regularly review the roles and responsibilities list during monthly meetings, ensuring adherence to the established framework.  If you have doubts about the importance of the fundamentals, just look at John Wooden's accomplishments; he did alright as a coach. 

I trust that the insights shared in this article will prove beneficial to your organization. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Thank you for reading.

Ian Galbraith

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