How to Make the Most of the Bench Position – in Basketball and Business

(My daughter sits on the bench during a family game of basketball. She doesn’t like this picture because she’s not smiling, but I think it’s cute.)

Many of you know that I’m a die-hard Oklahoma City Thunder fan. We’ve had a great season so far, and with Sunday’s victory over the Bulls, we secured our spot in the playoffs. The Thunder’s Big 3 are Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. Durant and Westbrook are starters. Super-talented Harden is a bench player. Without question, Harden is talented enough to be a starter, and he probably would start if he was with another team. But as a bench player, he’s a KEY role player with the Thunder. Perhaps you have the experience, expertise and enthusiasm to be a supervisor, manager, or executive, but for now you are serving as a bench player for your organization. Don’t despise your role. You’re likely far more critical to your organization’s success than you realize.

Every person on a basketball team or a corporate team has a role to play. A basketball player may be a Scorer, Defender, Rebounder, Shot-blocker or Leader. When Harden comes off the bench, he brings excitement by driving to the basket and with his 3-point shots. He’s also the Defender who guards the star player of the other team, and he can also very effectively lead the team. If you’re a Customer Service Representative, part of the role you play is to regain customer confidence after a service failure. You create warm experiences with customers, and you build customer loyalty. Your position is vital to profits and growth. You’re just as crucial to your company as James Haden is to the Thunder.

4 Ways to Make the Most of Your Role as a Corporate Bench Player

In the workplace, we can’t all be executives, managers or supervisors. Some of us are corporate bench players. If we play our bench position right, we will be as critical to our organization’s success as James Harden is to the Thunder’s success. Here are 4 ways to make the most of your corporate bench position.


1. Support Your Team

Bench players don’t want to be bench players, but you’d never know it by watching NBA bench players. They support and encourage their teammates. I’ve never seen James Harden sitting on the bench looking bored. He’s fiercely focused on the game, and he supports his teammates 100%. Good bench players support their team in every way. Good corporate bench players, while wanting a promotion or opportunity, are fully present during the action, even though they’re not on the front lines. They energetically support and encourage their teammates.

2. Fiercely Focus on the Game

A good bench player keeps his head in the game. He’s not holding his head down, letting his mind drift or shooting the breeze with other bench players. No, he’s paying attention to what offense and defense the team is running because he has to be ready at a moment’s notice. Just the same, when you’re on the sidelines for your corporate team, you have to pay attention. You must know the project objectives, the competition’s edge, and the company’s long-term goals. On the court or in the office, you must keep your head in the game.

3. Use the Bench Perspective to Identify Gaps…and Be Prepared to Fill in the Gaps

Maximize your position by taking in everything you see. From the bench, you have a broader perspective of the game (situation) through observation. While on the bench, survey the situation. What should the team be doing differently? What do they need more of? What are they missing or overlooking? What can you bring to the table? When you’re called off the bench, you can use your vantage point to position yourself to shine.

4. Keep Your Skills Sharp and Be Ready to Shine

By now you all know the Jeremy Lin story. When Jeremy came off the bench for the first time for the Knicks, he put 25 points on the board, had 5 rebounds and 7 assists. Jeremy Lin kept his skills sharp in spite of the fact that he was undrafted after college, was repeatedly sent to the D League and spent most of his NBA career on the bench. Had Lin had a mediocre game the day he came off the bench, you and I wouldn’t know his name. Read, network, take on projects, get a mentor and do whatever it takes to keep your skills tack-sharp. When your moment arrives, you need to rock it just like Jeremy Lin.

The bottom line: No NBA team can effectively play with just the 5 starters. The team needs the bench. While you’re on the corporate bench, support your team, fiercely focus on the “game,” keep your skills sharp and be on the lookout for ways you can fill in the gaps. When you do these things, you’ll shine and prove yourself as invaluable to your team as James Harden is to the Oklahoma City Thunder. You’ll shine, and you’ll get the recognition you deserve. #Thunderup!