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Jennifer Martin on basketball, business and innovation

By Amy Thomas in Thought Leadership Posted June 23, 2023

Employees playing basketball

Team behavior is a critical enabler of successful innovation, and innovation is about so much more than technology.

Senior leader of strategy at Key Equipment Finance Jennifer Martin spoke with Deborah Reuben, CEO and founder of TomorrowZone, for an article in The Monitor about Martin’s work in youth basketball and how it has highlighted important parallels for leadership and innovation.

Jennifer Martin's basketball and professional background

Professionally, Martin has been with Key Equipment Finance for 27 years, serving in various business and technology leadership roles. Jennifer notes that she has deep experience as both a team member and team leader.

Martin’s four boys, ranging in age from 16 to 24, have all played basketball since they were little. Her husband coached basketball, youth leagues and school teams for over 15 years. She has been volunteering for over 20 years with the youth basketball league in her community, and has also served as president of the league for 7 years.

“It’s our life; we are a basketball family. This is my passion, but there are many attributes in these teams that parallel professional life in our industry and any industry.”

How basketball teamwork applies to equipment finance innovation

Martin notes that teamwork is all about the humans within an organization. “I don’t think it matters if you’re talking about a basketball team or a team within your organization; all the concepts are the same. Build an environment where goals are clear and people are accountable, where they feel safe to fail and leaders join in those behaviors so that employees feel accepted.” she says. This enables the team to generate ideas and over time, the momentum will build and lead to an engaged workforce that understands they’re part of the success or failure of the organization.

Martin says, “As a leader within my organization, I’m constantly asking, ‘What can I do better? What can I learn from this situation or project to apply to the next one?’” She refers back to how the basketball teams she’s worked with have done this for many years. Asking tough questions has allowed them to show up in the best way possible. “I think our industry is learning how to get to a place where they can gain that velocity. It really is the humans and the competencies that we’ve been talking about that put us in the best position to continuously execute on ideas. I see the obvious parallels between basketball and professional life every single day.” Martin said.

"Build an environment where goals are clear and people are accountable, where they feel safe to fail and leaders join in those behaviors so that employees feel accepted.”

How leaders can model innovative behaviors

Martin believes it’s important for leaders to admit they don’t always have all the answers; it allows employees to not have all the answers, as well. “Then you can engage with questions, saying, ‘I don’t know exactly how to do this, but we need these five to eight competencies. How do we get there collectively? What do we need to innovate to develop into good innovators?’” she says. Once this understanding is established, teammates can start the journey of learning about one another and what needs to be done to create the healthiest environment to generate innovation velocity. Martin says, “That’s what this basketball program has done over the years, and we could easily pivot that into our own leaders and teams to do exactly the same.”

How leaders can shape their future

Martin also believes in gaining an honest perspective from your team. It takes time to build trust, but trust can and will be earned over time. In her experience with youth basketball, Martin observed that trust is key to creating a winning team - selfishness is “team kryptonite” and prevents optimal performance. Martin said, adding that “Before you even show up with the team, step back and reflect on how you lead and where you might be able to change and grow, because it starts with us, it starts with the leader.”

Read the full interview here.


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