The primary role of a point guard in basketball is to serve as the coach on the court. It’s a specialized position and is usually occupied by the smallest player. While it’s commonly believed that being small is a disadvantage in basketball, it can quickly become an advantage with speed, as well as good shooting and coordination skills. Players are able to switch to different positions during their careers, some players start as a small forward and later become centers and vice versa, but point guards stay point guards their entire career.
It took me many years to fully understand what it means to be a point guard. The point guard is often considered the “brain” of the team, responsible for organizing the other players, controlling the pace of the game, following the coach’s game plan and making sure that the ball gets to the right players. In addition to all of these responsibilities, a point guard has to make strategic decisions that influence the long-term direction of the team.
One example of when I had to face this kind of strategic planning was when a fellow teammate was not delivering what had been expected from him. He was underperforming, and it was hurting the team. He was an inexperienced freshman, and the team was lacking a substitute. Together with my coach we decided that we would risk losing some games with the aim of succeeding late in the season with this high-potential player. The other players couldn’t understand why this player was playing so much despite his poor performance. However, as the season approached the second half, the young player adapted his performance to the game and had an incredible impact. He improved every aspect of his game and helped the team win many games. The decision to give a player with lots of potential more on-court time rather than to more experienced players had huge pay-offs for the team in the long term.
When I started to work at Microsoft, I joined an existing team along with a few other new employees. We were all from different countries and after a few months of training, we all aimed to support our own markets. After six or seven months, and even though there were people with much more experience than us, a few of us were promoted to the position of GEO Lead and responsible for a specific area. Management saw our potential for growth and surely enough after we learned how to support our regions and to cope with the challenges, the results came – our department was the only one to reach the fiscal targets.
Another challenging aspect of being a point guard is to coordinate and manage the team during the practices and the games. A point guard needs to “feel” his teammates; read their body language; know who is in good shape; and what advantages and disadvantages each player has against their opponents. I used to acquire this information by watching and training with my teammates and by scouting the opponents. The ability to evaluate each situation and to realize who has the advantage is crucial and can be the difference between winning and losing.
After finishing high school, I joined the professional league. There, I had to develop a new skill I never thought I’d need. I was 18 years old. Some players were 15 years older than myself and clearly much more experienced. At the beginning of the season, my coach told me: “Players are selfish. They think only about their stats and next year’s contract. They will ask you to pass the ball to them so they can score 20 points. But you need to do what’s good for the team! Because you are the point guard and this is your job.”
I didn’t believe him at first, but just a few weeks later I had to convince some players to think about winning, and not just about their personal aspirations. I spoke with my coach, and we decided that we would talk to them together and that if they didn’t change, we would let them go. Being in this position is not always nice but it’s necessary for success, and it must be done in a respectful way. We explained our position to the players and they understood the situation. The players accepted our arguments and apologized to the team. From that day forward, we had a great season and, in the end, won the championship.
Similar situations will come up every now and again in any job involving teamwork and the management of teams. It is essential to a project’s success that everyone on the team is 100% engaged. In my current position, I often have to coordinate and manage interactions between my colleagues, account executives, technical managers and sales directors. Microsoft employees are the best sales professionals in the industry and much more experienced than myself and my colleagues, so how do I do it? First, I put a lot of effort preparing for each call and meeting. I am an inexperienced employee compared to our stakeholders, so I have to work hard to earn their respect and their willingness to collaborate with my department. During the last two and a half years at Microsoft, I realized that it doesn’t matter with which level of management I am engaging, as long as I am committed, consistent and honest. So far, I have managed to receive all of my stakeholders’ respect.
What I learned in the sports industry and then applied to the business world is that to get results, teams need to work hard, and together.