Four Leadership Secrets from UConn Coach Geno Auriemma

geno-auriemma-coaching-secretsIt’s so rare when someone dominates a sport—or a company crushes its competition—and then sets the bar even higher.

That’s what we’re seeing in women’s basketball. Geno Auriemma has coached the UConn Huskies to the verge of their fourth straight national title. That’s never been done. Geno’s team has won 73 consecutive games, and this season, their average margin of victory almost looks like a typo: 40 points! Every game for UConn is a test of whether they can remain on top, and they thrive in that space.

The one constant over the years has been Geno and his no-nonsense coaching philosophy. What makes his teams so fearless? Here are the four secrets I see that spell out the answer (and his first name).

Give each player what she needs, not what she wants.

One of his mentees, now coaching peer Sherri Coales, put it this way: “As keen as his gift is for X’s and O’s, Geno’s gift for affecting people is greater. The masses want to say he wins because he has the best players. He definitely has the best players. Geno wins because he makes the best players better versions of themselves.” Case in point: Rebecca Lobo, became the face of the sport 20 years ago. She recalled that Geno “makes you do things physically and mentally you didn’t know you were capable of.”

Empower your group to figure it out.

Trust in each team member until you are proven wrong. Geno considers himself a general who depends on his troops working well together on their own. They are on the court, not him. He trains them to think for themselves first and worry about consequences later. What this goes back to is his simple, powerful message: Each person must take what she is good at and become great at it.

No apologies for high demands.

“You guys aren’t good yet!” Geno can be heard yelling after another blowout win. They are used to practices that are harder than any games, because that’s Geno’s way of making them ready for anything. And his best players get the brunt of his tough standards, with major results. “I had to be pushed to a level that I didn’t know I could play at,” says UConn star Breanna Stewart, who some observers think may be the best to ever play this sport.

Own your mistakes.

This is important in elite sports and as a life habit. Here’s vintage Geno: “If you accept making mistakes because it’s a game… then as you go on in the rest of your life, and the stakes get higher and things get tougher, the only thing you learned is how to make mistakes and excuses.”

Your Game Changer Takeaway

UConn’s women’s basketball program is a great example of a culture where dominant success is the norm. Expectations and culture start at the top, and Geno Auriemma consistently delivers excellence by making his expectations crystal clear. They want to play for him because together they are more than the sum of their parts. Because he fearlessly and authentically challenges them and the status quo, they trust him and dig into their potential. In this stratosphere of peak performance, the question is no longer whether his Huskies will win, but by how much.

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Molly Fletcher helps inspire and equip game changers to dream, live and grow fearlessly. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working with elite athletes and coaches as a sports agent, and applies them to the business world.  Her Game Changer Negotiation Training™ has helped organizations and individuals across all industries more effectively ask for what they want, build stronger relationships and close more deals faster.