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  • Ethan Garofalo

Need a place to find strategic inspiration? Look no further than the Boston Celtics.

Today, great leaders are able to face down external and internal challenges to their culture and keep their teams focused and determined in order to meet their goals. Need a place to find strategic inspiration? Look no further than the Boston Celtics’ historic turnaround in the last two years. No team has reached an NBA Finals in recent history with more question marks surrounding its future than the Celtics had at the beginning of 2022. In a season that was filled with turmoil, amidst several conflicts among key players, constant suggestions to separate the core pairing of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, as well as uncertainties surrounding a new head coach, the team seemed destined for combustion.

Now, a quick turn-around is not uncommon, but the circumstances that brought the Celtics to fruition are worth consideration. Most teams require a significant free-agent signing, a trade, or a new coach in order to rekindle a collective spirit of excellence. There needs to be the addition or removal of a key ingredient to allow everyone to believe again. However, this was not the case for the Celtics, who were already a team with plenty of talent despite their record, 23 wins and 24 losses, saying otherwise.

The drivers that empowered the Celtics to finish the season 28-7, beginning a deep postseason run and continued success this past season, was a reevaluation of the team’s identity and inspiring the team to play with a common purpose. Previously, the blueprint to contain the Celtics was fairly simple: Stop the two Js (Jayson and Jaylen). The spark that eventually lit their scorching finish to the 2021-2022 season was one that occurred in the locker room as role players gained the trust to become offensive threats in their own right. This took the pressure off of Jayson and Jaylen to dictate every possession and allowed them to exert more energy on the defensive end. The role players who were previously standing on the side during offense were now immersed in the action, and their new opportunities caused them to be more invested on both sides of the ball.

The team began playing as just that, a team, in contradistinction to a group of individual players in the same jersey. This new empowerment was best exemplified by the drastic shift in energy on the defensive side of the court, the side that is not glorified by fans and rewarded with high-paying contracts. In an interview with Masslive, Jayson Tatum captures the shift perfectly:

“Everybody’s of the same mindset of do whatever it takes to win, do what’s best for the team,” Tatum said. “Once you do that and everybody has that same mindset, everybody will shine individually anyway. That’s just how it happens. Obviously, you need talent. But a group of great guys, that’s the formula for success.”

The most dangerous team is the one with knowledge about its identity. The Celtics identified their “North Star” - a concept that involves possessing a clear sense of purpose, intention, and comprehension that your efforts are leading toward a common destination. For the Celtics, the North Star was to give everything they had on the defensive end of the court. In turn, the team began producing some of the best defensive statistics in NBA history, and their success correlated with the common purpose they identified on the court.

We can take away a great deal from the Celtics transformation. Just as the Celtics did, we can reevaluate our current situation and attempt to determine the degree to which we are living up to our own purpose. For teams to reach their fullest manifestation, they must possess a shared objective and a transparent trajectory for their journey. They must feel comfortable discussing the shared task that they are undertaking and identify the focal point that all team members must strive for.

How are you inspiring diverse roles to commit to and fulfill your North Star? How are you helping your “role players” to embrace the journey and shine? As we unite as teams to fulfill our company’s North Star, we must ensure that each individual can see themselves in that higher calling, and that is the job of a great leader.

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