During yesterday’s Your Academy 2021 event, the presidential guest speaker, former University of North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams, delivered a motivating address that encouraged attendees to not only achieve a high level of professional success, but to do their best to maintain that level throughout their careers.
If anyone knows about staying successful until the end of long career, it’s Williams. He retired in April 2021 with the sixth-highest winning percentage in college basketball history. Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007, Williams was a college head coach for 33 seasons at two of the three winningest programs in the sport’s history.
During his address to AAOS members and other orthopaedic professionals, the Asheville, N.C., native noted the parallels between his line of work and a career in orthopaedic surgery, including the teamwork required to achieve desired outcomes. “It’s not just about you—it’s about the team you’ve put together,” said Williams. “You have teams—they are your nurses, your partners in your practice. Your team members don’t work for you, they work with you.” Effective leaders will set aside their ego for the good of the team, he continued. “It’s amazing how much your team can accomplish when no one cares who gets the credit.”
Excellent leaders also encourage their team members’ individual growth. “I wanted to be somebody that could have an impact,” Williams said. “My job was not only to win games, it was to help my players be the citizens they wanted to be and to understand how to live in the world.” Great team players, Williams said, do their job—whether big or small—to the best of their ability. Williams also stressed the importance of providing prompt feedback to team members. Often staying up late into the night after games, Williams and his assistants would watch game tapes im¬mediately in order to have instructions for players by the next practice.
Setting expectations with team members and then following through on those plans cultivates a culture of trust, according to Williams. It is a leader’s responsibility to create this type of environment. “If I tell players, ‘we’re going to stop at 6:30,’ then we stop at 6:30,” Williams said. “If I tell players, ‘just one more,’ then it will be just one more.”
Maintaining a desire to improve is critical for sustaining success, according to Williams. “You have to have a hunger to do your job. You have to have a hunger to be your best every day,” he said. “You can’t lean back and say, ‘I’ve made it now.’” Relaying the story of a particularly hardworking college basketball player, Williams noted that this young man expressed a desire to be the best basketball player that UNC has ever had. Prescribing a strict regimen of preseason conditioning, Williams cautioned that hard work would be required to achieve this goal. The player told him, “No one will ever outwork me.” That player went on to lead UNC to a national championship and won National Player of the Year in back-to-back college seasons. That player? Michael Jordan.
Throughout his speech, Williams emphasized his admiration of and respect for orthopaedic surgeons. Acknowledging the unique challenges that medical professionals have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, Williams expressed his appreciation for the work that orthopaedists have continued to do while navigating this period of uncertainty. Addressing attendees directly, Williams said, “I’m looking out at my heroes. What you’ve done in the past one-and-a-half years is incredible.” That feeling of respect seemed to be mutual, as the crowd cheered loudly when Williams correctly described the varus alignment of his left knee.
Pamela Stebbins, MWC, is president of Spark Strategic Communications and freelance writer for AAOS Now.