Full Court Leadership Lessons from Coach Dawn Staley


As Edith Wharton once said, “There are two ways of diffusing light: being the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” There is no better contemporary example of a leader who embodies both sides of that coin than Dawn Staley.

When Staley took over the University of South Carolina women’s basketball team in 2008, she wanted to win. And she has done just that. Under Staley, the Gamecocks have made 10 consecutive NCAA tournaments, earning four trips to the Final Four and winning two national championships. She has developed a women’s basketball program and created a legacy to match.

We can learn a lot from winning teams and their coaches, but Coach Staley goes beyond the typical coaching tasks. She is a beacon that shines her light on others – on and off the field. So what can we learn from Staley’s winning playbook? Here are three lessons I found:

1. A rising tide lifts all boats

Coaching doesn’t stop when you leave the field — something Coach Staley is well aware of. In 2017, she led South Carolina’s Gamecocks to their first-ever NCAA Championship. An incredible achievement in itself, it was made even more remarkable by the statement made by coach Staley off the field. After the game, she chopped down the championship net and sent pieces of it to other black women’s head coaches. After her team’s 2022 win, she’s doing it all over again — this time sending pieces of the net to black male coaches and black journalists who often don’t get the opportunities they deserve.

The gesture is both a nod to Carolyn Peck, the first black coach to win a women’s national basketball championship, and a symbol of something bigger. By celebrating and sharing her achievements, Coach Staley is making a powerful statement: This championship is about more than her team, it’s about everyone striving to be where she is one day. Lifting each other and showing that their goals are within reach is such an important qualification for anyone leading a team and Coach Staley is really paving the way, not just for other coaches, but for all leaders.

2. You have the power to trust others

On its way to the 2022 NCAA Championships, the University of South Carolina was pitted against the University of Connecticut Huskies, one of the most winning teams in women’s basketball history. In fact, the Huskies had a perfect 11-0 record in championship games — a stat that would intimidate the most. But not Coach Staley.

Instead, when asked about the Huskies’ win percentage, she replied coolly and confidently, stating that her team also has an undefeated championship record—and it’s true. While the Huskies may have more wins to their name, that didn’t stop Coach Staley from getting to know her and her team. The level of confidence she showed going into a match where she was clearly the underdog is impressive to say the least. As leaders, we can’t always predict the outcome of certain situations, but we can still give our teams the confidence to dream big and work hard to get there.

3. Real coaches recognize the MVP in everyone

For every star player, there’s a bench full of teammates cheering them on from the sidelines. Often those people go unrecognized for the value they deliver, but not on Coach Staley’s team. While you may only see those who score the most baskets, she believes it’s not the starting post or power forward that makes a team who they are. Ultimately, it’s the practice and bench players that shape a team’s ability to win all season, and Coach Staley makes sure they get what they deserve.

This is an exercise that all leaders should do. There are so many little things that happen on a regular basis that may go unnoticed. We must remember that just expressing a little gratitude for the unsung heroes in our lives can go a long way.

As the adage goes, you should always “lead by example” and Coach Staley has given us plenty of examples to choose from. Now, whenever I find myself in game-changing situations, I think to myself, “What would Coach Staley do?” and the victories will (hopefully) follow.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not Inc.com’s.

This post Full Court Leadership Lessons from Coach Dawn Staley was original published at “https://www.inc.com/katie-burke/full-court-leadership-lessons-from-coach-dawn-staley.html”


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