Rise Performance Group

What Tim Duncan Can Teach Us About Leadership in the Office

By Sarah Watson

For anyone who played team sports in high school or college, you know their importance for building strong leaders with solid work ethics. Even if you didn’t participate in a sport, the similarities between team sports and work life are easy to spot. They teach teamwork, responsibility and personal accountability. With the NBA Finals finished, one player stood out as an obvious example of someone who possesses all of these traits, even though his team didn’t quite make it.

Tim Duncan, of the San Antonio Spurs, demonstrates how hard work and leadership are invaluable no matter what you do for a living. Although his team didn’t make it to the Finals, Duncan is still a great example of an ideal player. Whether you play professional sports or just watch them on television, these lessons from Duncan are worth remembering:

  • Control what you can control – Tim Duncan is known for his silence both on the court and off. He doesn’t do big endorsement deals or try to make fans and commentators like him by spending a lot of time with the media. “All I can do is play and try to play well. Winning should be the only thing that matters. I can’t manipulate how people see me.” It was true in high school, and it’s still true in the workplace. At the end of the day, the only thing you can control is yourself. Your performance, attitude and work ethic are all under your control, while your boss, clients and co-workers are not.
  • Know who you are – “It sounds somewhat arrogant, but I don’t really want to change. I like who I am, I like how I do things. I try to be that way,” said Duncan when asked about his playing style.  While teamwork and collaboration are vital in the workplace, so are unique individuals who bring fresh ideas and perspectives. No one knows your greatest strengths and weaknesses better than you do. Understanding the areas where you excel and the areas where you need improvement can help you reach your potential. Seek advice from co-workers who are knowledgeable in the areas you are not, and look for opportunities to take advantage of your expertise. Are you a people person with a passion for social media? Look for opportunities to involve your company in new online communities.
  • Command respect, don’t demand it – As a veteran player for San Antonio, you can bet Duncan doesn’t have to ask for respect. He gets it because he’s one of the greatest players in the NBA, but also because of his attitude toward young players on his team.  He serves as a mentor and role model for the younger players, and embraces his role as the team’s leader.  In some cases, younger players may be more inclined to listen to Duncan, as a teammate, rather than their head coach. Older workers can play the same role in the office. New hires and younger workers can benefit from following the example set by more experienced employees. More experienced employees can take on a leadership position by being allies for young workers in the office and bridging the generation gap. You’ll gain a lot more respect by having a positive and friendly attitude toward young workers rather than playing the seniority card.  Whether you’re the boss, a veteran employee, or a new hire, you can benefit from this relationship among co-workers. When employees can solve problems and get questions answered without always going to the boss, everyone is more productive.
  • Do whatever it takes – Late in his career, Duncan lost 15 pounds to take pressure off his knees when most players his age only get bigger. Duncan is always willing to do whatever it takes to get better, even at a late stage in his career. It’s easy to get comfortable in our day-to-day routines and be happy just doing what’s asked of us, but going the extra mile is a great way to help both you and your company succeed. Take on a project without being asked or organize a team-building exercise for your department. Getting some training to stay fresh is also a great way to make an extra effort. Going the extra mile is a great way to get ahead at work and help your company grow at the same time.

What have you learned from the sports world that has proved helpful in the business world?

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