UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma, an insightful manager.
In the world of college basketball, Geno Auriemma is a legend.
The coach of the women’s basketball team for the University of Connecticut since 1985, Auriemma has led the women’s Huskies to 11 NCAA titles and four undefeated seasons. His current team hasn’t lost a game in two years.
He’s also something of a management guru, though that’s not his intent. Auriemma’s pronouncements on leadership and getting the most out of a team deserve their own book. We were reminded of this when a hugely popular video recently resurfaced about how he knows some players deserve to be on the bench.
The key trait of benched players: A bad attitude
What does “a bad attitude” mean? A bunch of things, to Auriemma: entitlement. Not trying hard enough. Giving up too soon. Whining.
You’ll find that top recruiters and employers think the same way too. It’s hard to find a good candidate to hire and even harder to find people who can become leaders. How do recruiters recognize them? Like Auriemma, by “body language.”
“Recruiting kids that are upbeat and loving life and love the game and have this appreciation for when their teammates do something well — that’s really hard,” Auriemma says in the video.
“We put a huge premium on body language. And if your body language is bad, you will never get in the game. EVER. I don’t care how good you are….I’d rather lose than watch kids play the way some kids play. They’re allowed to get away with just whatever. And they’re always thinking about themselves: Me, me, me, me, me. ‘I didn’t score, so why should I be happy?’ ‘I’m not getting enough minutes; why should I be happy?’ That’s the world we live in today, unfortunately…Don’t get me started. When I look at my team, they know this: when I watch game film, I’m checking what’s going on on the bench. If someone’s asleep over there, if somebody does’t care, if somebody’s not engaged in the game, they will never get in the game. And they know I’m not kidding. ”
Does that sound like someone you know? Are they frustrated at work and not getting anywhere? It may be because they feel entitled to a bigger title or more money, but they haven’t proved they have the maturity to handle it. They want to succeed but they’re not really showing results, harboring personal resentments more often than they’re doing good work.
Of course, we all know that happens. Even the world’s top leaders, like former President Obama, have admitted they were once slackers. What Auriemma’s insight reveals is this: not only is a bad attitude destructive to your chances of rising, it’s also fooling no one. Bad attitude is built into your body language, and it’s totally transparent. And it’s holding you back.
Here’s how to turn it around, according to Auriemma’s collected wisdom.
Accept criticism and learn how to be coached
Auriemma’s approach is tough love, which means being direct about what’s going well and what’s not.
The best performers accept any fair criticism and use it to get better. The mediocre players feel wounded by any suggestion and give up.
“I don’t want someone to beat around the bush. If I didn’t play well, I want to know why,” one of Auriemma’s players says. Another, Tina Charles, notes, “with him it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about getting the best out of every player.”
“Good players, great players, a culture of winning every night, players that are committed to being coached– they enjoy being coached, they want you to coach them,” Auriemma has said. “You got a lot of the opposite of what I just talked about. There are players who don’t want to be coached really hard, they don’t want demands placed on them.”
The best workers — the ones that stand out to recruiters and others in their industry — are the ones who want to improve, not the ones who collapse when they’re asked to do better. Wanting to do better, and working at it, makes people stand out.
Developing a champion mindset
Auriemma constantly puts his players in the most difficult situations, then asks them to succeed anyway.
“These guys are faster than you. So you’re going to have to everything right to get a shot,” Auriemma says to his team. “They’re faster than you.”
As an example, when his players get good at playing, he tests them by forcing them to play at a disadvantage, piling 5, 6, or even 8 players on a team that has only four players to defend them. By increasing the challenge, Auriemma’s players get good at playing out-numbered. They learn how to compete.
Auriemma spots the players that will never level up: the ones who make excuses right away. “The ones that say, ‘they have seven and we have five, what do you expect?”
What Auriemma expects is the attitude of being ready to overcome any challenge: “The ones who say, ‘coach, that’s the best you can do? Only seven?’ They’re the ones that are going to be great.'”
That’s applicable to working at many companies where you’ll never have the perfect amount of resources, and never have the perfect amount of staff.”
Instead of greeting every new tangle with “what fresh hell is this,” think “I welcome the challenge.” Being able to do more with less is how mastery is born.
“Don’t talk about how good you want to be. Show me how good you want to be.”
Auriemma’s philosophy of spotting greatness comes down to the proof that the players themselves provide. Everyone wants to succeed, but only some people focus on the skills to do it.
This is visible even in job interviews. Every hiring manager knows that the surest sign of someone who has accepted failure in their lives is “I coulda been a contender,” excuses: “I could have gotten that job,” or “if I had a chance, I would have increased revenues.”
People who succeed fail first too. But they ultimately accept their failures, then work harder to create actual accomplishments, not almost-accomplishments. In basketball, “almost winning” a game is still called “losing.” Transform your mindset to achieve, not just to get close. Recruiters will notice.
Appreciate and cheer for your teammates despite your differences
It’s no secret that gender gaps in the workplace can be a barrier — not just for women, but also for men, who may find working with women mysterious if they haven’t had experience with it.
Auriemma’s view of male managers who may be afraid to talk to women about performance for fear of sparking an emotional reaction?
“Stop treating them like women and treat them like valued employees. Just because they wear a dress or are feminine doesn’t change what their job description is.”
And never hold those differences against people. When you’re frustrated with a manager, a direct report or a colleague, be measured: “You never want to go after somebody’s heart or somebody’s core,” Auriemma says. “You want to go after what they did.”
Having a “killer instinct” to win doesn’t mean being rude in the rest of your life
Auriemma praises his best players as “killers — in the best way” but notes that they are also “nice.” As humans, as teammates, they show generosity and are pleasant to be around.
The point here is crucial: you don’t have to be a jerk to win, and winning shouldn’t make you a jerk. No matter what your job, you are part of a team — whether you work at a company, run your own business, or work remotely. None of us does anything alone. Recruiters and employers know who has a good reputation, because they talk to everyone. Not everyone has to be your best friend, but your good qualities should shine through regularly enough to be well-known in your industry. A good attitude combined with great talent and a competitive drive make someone a sought-after hire.
How do we know this all works? Auriemma’s players rave about him, and many have gone on to enviable professional careers. They testify that Auriemma’s approach helped them level up. Maybe it can help you too.