Jay Wright is widely regarded as one of the best coaches in college basketball, having recently retired after 21 years as the head coach of Villanova men’s basketball, which achieved 14 NCAA Tournament appearances and won two national titles in 2016 and 2018. Wright is a two-time Naismith Coach of the Year, National Championship winning coach and member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He now works as a college basketball analyst for CBS/Turner Sports.
Ahead of his presentation at NECA 2023 Philadelphia, Wright spoke with our staff about being a successful leader and motivating teams (both on the court and in the office).
1. What moments are you proudest of as a successful leader in the world of basketball?
Obviously, winning the NCAA Championship in 2016 and 2018 was an incredible accomplishment for our program and our university. But the consistency on the court as well as in the classroom is what we take the most pride in. Every player that stayed for four years graduated on time. Personally, being an assistant coach on the USA Team in the 2021 Olympics was the most gratifying achievement in basketball terms. Representing our country and participating in the Olympics was a dream come true. Bringing home the Gold was extremely challenging and rewarding.
2. When teams are facing a particularly challenging period, what tips do you have for leaders to motivate them through the hard times and achieve success?
All teams face the unique challenge at the beginning of each season. I think the Eagles and Villanova Basketball have different challenges. The Eagles have to live with unrealistic expectations and previous success. Villanova has to rebound from a difficult season and return to their previous standards. Both teams, however, have the same path to success. They must be prepared for hard times. They can’t be distracted by fans and the media’s criticism. They must stay committed to their teammates and their team’s core values. No matter their obstacle, they must evaluate themselves on overcoming the obstacle first then look at their long-term goals.
3. Providing motivation to your team is an important aspect of being a leader, but finding your own motivation to be a good leader could be considered equally important. What internal motivations did you have to draw upon as a coach to help lead your team through good seasons and bad?
Similar to our teams, individually we must have our own set of core values. As leaders, we must be the “Keepers of the Flame.” There must be an authenticity in how we lead. Whatever our team’s core values are, we must live them first. We must lead by example.
Secondly, we must have a plan everyday with our vision for our team to follow. Our vision must be clearly communicated with a blueprint toward our goals. Finally, regardless of obstacles in our way, our vision and plan must always provide hope for our team. Our positive attitude every day is what we control. That attitude must exude vision and hope.
4. What drew you to the game of basketball, and what goals did you have for yourself as a player, and then as a coach?
I love the team element of basketball and that I could play all year long. Indoor, outdoor summer, winter, I wanted to play or practice every day. I also loved that basketball was a game that you could practice by yourself with a ball and a hoop. That allowed me to take my destiny into my own hands more than any other sport.
My goals were always to get to the next level and be successful. I would always compare myself to the players at the level above me. I worked constantly to try and improve and be able to compete with them. It worked for me at every level, but after my college career at Bucknell University, I knew I wasn't good enough to play in the NBA. That is when I turned to coaching.
In coaching I never aspired to any of the successes that we have enjoyed. I always was grateful for every coaching position, especially in my early years as an assistant. I simply loved being a part of the team.
As a head coach, I always thought my commitment to core values, making each player the best student, person and player he could be was what I controlled. I would always commit to those core values for each player. For our team, I would try to navigate the season so that each unique group of young men could be the best team they could be by the end of the season. Understanding we only control those areas, we navigated the challenges of each season and accepted our destiny.
5. After your career as a college basketball coach, you pivoted to a different career path related to college sports and are now a college basketball analyst for a major TV network. What kind of advice would you give electrical contractors who are looking to pivot their own careers either within the industry, or to those looking to move into the industry?
Most of you have built successful careers in the electrical contracting business. Stay loyal to what you built, your passion and your commitment. As long as you have the passion and energy to lead your team, enjoy it. There is nothing that compares to the ride you are on leading your team. If you feel you can’t be all in, give 100%, turn it over to someone you trust who will maintain your core values and commitment. If you ask everyone on your team to be 100% in, then you must be also.
You will be amazed at the new opportunities that will come your way. There are people you work with, compete against or have met in your travels, that will identify incredible opportunities for you. The core values, passion and commitment to leadership that you have exhibited will be valued by many different industries. You will be amazed how your knowledge and experience is applicable to many leadership positions.
Don’t fear being uncomfortable learning or taking on new challenges. Be a lifetime learner and have confidence that you bring value because of your work ethic, leadership skills and experience. I have just finished my rookie year as a TV broadcaster. I still have a lot to learn. It is exciting having that sense of anticipation and uneasiness taking on a new challenge. It is humbling and transformative.