What Can Proposal Managers Learn from Legendary Basketball Coach Red Holzman?

When I was living in New York City from 1968 to 1976, the New York Knicks were one of the most feared teams in the NBA. With players like Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, and Bill Bradley, the Knicks were a joy to watch, especially during their 1969-1970 season when they beat the Los Angeles Lakers to claim their first NBA championship.

Although the Knicks had great basketball players, they also had a great coach and a future member of the Basketball Hall of Fame – Red Holzman. Holzman’s simple but difficult goal – “see the ball on defense and hit the open man on offense” – worked wonders for his players. Overlooked, however, was Holzman’s subtle managerial style, which has much to teach business executives and Proposal Managers.

I was reminded of Holzman’s coaching talents when I recently read a stimulating article in the Huffington Post on the eve of the NBA playoffs by Mike Berman on Red Holzman’s leadership. I would like to use Berman’s article to distill the essence of Holzman’s approach to leadership because I think his managerial style equally applies to successful Proposal Managers:

• Be modest. Holzman said that “I don’t think there is such a thing as a coaching genius, just hard workers.” For Holzman, action, deeds, and credibility mattered more than words. He embodied the values he preached.
• Know what you intend to accomplish when you assume a leadership role. Clearly state your goal and performance standards and reinforce them regularly from the beginning.
• Maintain a focus on the fundamentals and what matters most. Avoid over-complication.
• Monitor. Once your system has been embraced by the team, let go and empower people to succeed.
• Achieve results by training, coaching, and mentoring your fellow proposal team members so they can perform well, like the legendary performance of injured Willis Reed in the first Knicks championship run.

Sports analogies with the business world are often trite and strained or just plain silly and they seem to be a virtual monopoly of out-of-shape men. However, a great coach and person like Red Holzman has much to teach us about the essence of leadership. Apply his approach to proposal management and you should improve your performance.

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