Life of Riley

Pat Riley now of Miami Heat is a basketball coaching legend. His leadership style bears some comparison with Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United Football Club. What might their careers tell us about business success?

Tudor Rickards

A young man brought up in tough early circumstances goes on to become one of the all time legends of his sport as a coach of the highest quality and a great motivator. He became known as a master of press relations, and a coiner of memorable phrases. His playing career was successful enough, but he was never regarded as in the same class as the world beaters he went on to coach and motivate.

Abrasive but sensitive

He is often described as charismatic. He was to become rich and famous beyond the expectations of his early years. His management style is regarded as abrasive although showing unexpected sensitivity to a player’s emotional needs from time to time. He enjoys the good life outside his professional work.

Sir Alex or Pat?

Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United or Pat Riley of Miami Heat? The facts fit the public picture of both men equally well. They were actually written about Pat Riley.

Now President of The Miami HEAT, Pat Riley posted 50-plus winning seasons in 13 consecutive years, which is unprecedented in the NBA. Riley’s 137 playoff victories rank first in league post-season annuals as the only coach to secure 100 or more playoff victories. He surpassed the legendary Red Auerbach’s 99-playoff wins in 1990. Pat has won six world championships as a player and coach. His speeches before hundreds of corporations have earned him the title of “America’s Greatest Motivational Speaker.” His philosophy is based upon winning, leadership, mastery, change, and personal growth as well as understanding and controlling the shifting dynamics of a team any team, whether it is a small company, a giant corporation, a city, or a group of athletes. He worked with one of the greatest stars of his sport but the relationship went wrong. The club wasn’t big enough for both of them.

Art follows life

In one of those coincidences, executives in Miami will be studying a hypothetical case of a sports motivator who has written a book called “Leadership is for winners not for whingers”. [Probably a Brit. A whinger is someone who constantly blames others for their problems]. The executives will learn how to weigh the evidence and assess the merits of such claims, as part of a leadership programme. I am getting ready for questions about basketball …

Study note

This post was written for study by executive students at Manchester Business School’s Miami-based MBA course as part of the introductory module Global Events and Leadership.

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