Leadership Lessons from a Four-Time WNBA Championship Team

 

I went to Game 5 of the WNBA Finals a couple of weeks ago to keep tabs on my Minnesota Lynx and make sure they won the 2017 WNBA Championship. They did. You’re welcome. I had goosebumps from the minute we got our seats. Pretty sure my deodorant stopped working, so I tweeted about it. I almost chewed a hole in the giveaway shirt we got because a score that close in the last two minutes is not my favorite thing. I was able to breathe once there were 57 seconds left in the game and the Lynx were ahead by nine points. And really, I just wanted the Lynx to not even get close to any of the Sparks players because they are… something. The timeouts were killin’ me because listen. You are down by that many points? It’s not gonna happen and you’re just prolonging my high blood pressure from going back to a somewhat normal state. Okay – Lynx won. I was stressed out and trying to distract myself during the FIVE BILLION unnecessary timeouts and really terrible halftime show, so, you know, I was thinkin’ about HR-type stuff. (Shut up.  I love it.)

Backstory for my non-WNBA friends: Lindsay Whalen is my favorite WNBA player, possibly my favorite athlete. She’s a 13 year veteran point guard of the WNBA, graduated from the University of Minnesota, got drafted by the Connecticut Sun, came back home to the Minnesota Lynx in 2010 and now has four championship rings. That’s the short story. Even shorter story: she’s a true leader in every since of the world. She’s not the taller player, the best shooter, or the fastest runner, but she doesn’t have to be. She just knows how all those things work together well and where she fits into the mix.

Here’s my favorite example over the course of the WNBA Finals: Game 4. Lynx are down 2-1 in the series. They lose again, they lose the Finals. Not an option for Whalen. 1:30 into the game and she flattens the Sparks point guard to put an end to a fast break and gets a flagrant foul called. The Sparks hit both their free throws. Didn’t matter. The energy that Whalen fueled by putting the stop to that play sent the Lynx into a place where they desperately needed to be and it sent the Sparks into the opposite direction. The Lynx won.

You’re thinking I’m just telling you this story because I like reliving the mental picture of Whalen clothes-lining another point guard. You’re half right. The other reason is because it’s a pretty great example of how a leader can let other people focus on their jobs while figuring out how to  make things better in ways that other people aren’t focusing on.

I don’t think anyone else on the team knew how to get that energy back, including the coach. They knew the gist of how to win a game: play hard, score points, shift the momentum, all those sportsing things. But Whalen knew that something had to give, and I’m pretty sure the court gave a little bit when that other player hit the floor. Not the most orthodox approach, but one that was worth trying because nothing else was working. And it did.

This isn’t a personal story or a work story. It’s a combo of two of my most favorite things and it’s an observation of what an amazing, hard working, in the trenches leader looks like from a different perspective. And it was awesome.

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