4 ways the March Madness athletes can teach you to win at work

Kennedy Meeks #3 of the North Carolina Tar Heels puts up a shot against Jordan Bell #1 of the Oregon Ducks during the 2017 NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal.
Lance King | Getty Images

The first round of the 2018 March Madness championship kicks off Thursday with the Oklahoma Sooners facing the Rhode Island Rams. Last year, the North Carolina Tar Heels triumphed over the Gonzaga Bulldogs, 71-65.

As millions of viewers gear up to watch and dissect each game, with many joining in office bracket wagers, it's easy to forget that these are college students vying for glory and not NBA stars playing for millions. In many respects, these student-athletes are leaders for their universities on one of sport's biggest stages.

One of those viewers, for instance, is former U.S. President Barack Obama, who's made it a tradition to release his predictions for the NCAA tournament. "Just because I have more time to watch games doesn't mean my picks will be better," he wrote on Twitter, "but here are my brackets this year: https://go.obama.org/2018bracket."


It's no surprise, of course, that these athletes need to be strong mentally as well as physically to achieve success on-court. People with a winner's mindset are emotionally intelligent and feel comfortable being uncomfortable, according to Graham Betchart, a mental coach for three top NBA draft picks.

Still, there's immense pressure to bring home that final win, and with a total of 68 schools partaking in the tournament, the competition is stiff. CNBC Make It spoke with Jeff Janssen, who runs North Carolina's Janssen Sports Leadership Center, to discuss the four major qualities that make for a March Madness championship team: commitment, confidence, composure and character.

Janssen, who has a background in sports psychology, estimates that his programs have helped over 26,000 athletes via the 20 leadership academies he runs across the country in the last 13 years.

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"I've always been really intrigued by the intangibles of the sports world and why it is that the most talented team on paper doesn't always win the championship," Janssen says. "And what I discovered is that the critical variables like leadership, motivation, culture and team building ... were just absolutely critical to helping that talent perform at the highest level."

Here are four leadership lessons you can learn from the March Madness teams and apply to your own career success:

1. Commit to the task at hand

Like at work, commitment is key to succeeding on the basketball court, says Janssen. The athletes aren't able to make their plays on talent alone. "They have spent countless hours in quality training, not only on the court, but also in conditioning," he explains. "They are at their peak physical condition there because of the commitment that they put in."

That's also what self-made millionaire Grant Cardone says is one of the two rules he lives by. "Nothing in life comes to those that don't commit to anything," he writes. "There is a cost to commitment, which is time, energy and money. But it's worth it."

Jeff Janssen

2. Have confidence in your abilities, and use them

It's no surprise that the well-trained March Madness athletes need to be self-assured. "Confidence has to be huge to perform against the other best teams out there," says Janssen. Every shot counts.

Confidence can also help any worker achieve success in business. Best-selling author Bernard Marr offers nine tricks to help with boosting confidence at the office, which you can check out here.

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3. Keep composed in tough situations

Being able to live in the moment and act quickly is another way the March Madness finalists fought their way through the bracket, says Janssen. Maintaining control, even under duress, is what sets them apart.

"Composure is going to be huge," says Janssen. "They're going to be in some really tight situations where performance in the clutch is going to be critical and they're going to need to maintain that composure and poise when stuff happens."

In interviewing for jobs, composure is of utmost importance. Sally Bolig, Head of Talent Acquisition at Yotpo, says that even if a candidate slips up during the interview process, keeping calm, cool and collected can get you to the next stage.

4. Represent yourself well and strive to be your best

Janssen underlines that sportsmanship matters too. "Last, but not least, is just their character and being a good person and then also representing their teams with class and great character as well," he says.

Geno Auriemma, the head coach of the University of Connecticut's women's basketball team, agrees. Footage of him stressing the importance of team spirit, character and camaraderie recently went viral on Facebook.

High-achieving executives, including billionaires (and buddies) Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, seem to feel the same. Both have a hunger for learning and bettering themselves, an important characteristic both off and, in the case of March Madness, on the court.

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This is an updated version of a story that appeared previously.