The Hardwood Lessons

Leadership reminders are EVERYWHERE

brown and black basketball ball

I knew it was going to happen.  Honestly, I did not give it too much attention.  A call from my son Jake, an avid sports fan and debating partner on a range of topics, brought it into clearer focus.  “Are you going to watch the game tonight?  LeBron could break the record.”  LeBron James was sitting 36 points behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the scoring record in the NBA.  I really did not expect that he would score 37 to take the #1 position.  I was still focused on my clients and work and lingering writing projects.

I woke up to a text from Jake.  “If you’re still up, turn on TNT.  He’s only 6 points away.”  I was not awake and did not see him surpass another LA Laker great.  I am of a certain age that I saw Magic and Kareem battle Larry Bird and Michael Jordan all while rooting for my hometown Knicks.  Those were my glory days of the NBA.  Then I started to think about LeBron James and his success and the lessons for my clients.  I don’t know that it was intentional but, to me, what sets him apart from everyone else is his consistency, preparation, and teamwork.

These three lessons are so important to us all (if we can embrace them) in our personal and professional lives.  Working with small business owners and technical leaders, I thought that these are emblematic of the traits we so often discuss.

➤ Consistency is the Key

Since entering the league at 18, he has been a metronome.  Year after year after year.  His statistical performance can be almost penciled in before the season starts.  He is now 38 and, at some point, his performance will decline, or he may choose to retire before that happens.  His hallmark has been his ability to deliver consistently, albeit at a very high level, over 20 years.  I often have this conversation with my clients.  Be dependable.  Put the systems in place that will allow for consistent results – revenue, customer service, marketing, or employee engagement.  Whatever metric you use to gauge success, make sure you put in the time and effort to promote sustainability, predictability, and reliability.

➤ Proper Preparation

The story is told that even as a high school student, LeBron James would stretch every night before bed.  Presumably, to keep him limber and healthy for the next day’s abuse.  His preparation goes beyond the physical, though anyone who has seen him can instantly attest to time spent preparing his body for an 82-game season and the anticipated playoff run.  He believes in mental fitness through meditation, mindfulness, and regular sleep.  He is prepared for the loose balls he will chase down and the pressure to make a shot in a tight game.  My clients do not perform on national TV, but they experience personal and professional pressure.  Think about what you want to achieve and the possible challenges.  How could you overcome those challenges?  How can you respond that will give you the ability to recover or deliver in times of uncertainty or change?  We all need to be mentally and physically prepared to exploit opportunities when they present themselves.

➤ Teamwork Elevates Others

How can the new scoring king be the avatar for teamwork?  He is also #4 all-time for assists.  You might think “he has played 20 years, that might be expected.”  Maybe if he played point guard and expected to distribute the ball to an open teammate.  He is a power forward, a position known more for battling the big men than having a deft passing hand.  He has taken 4 teams to the finals (two runs with the Cavaliers) with rotating rosters.  He has made the players around him and his teams better.  My clients often struggle to develop, promote, and support their teams.  It happens for a variety of reasons.  They have technical expertise and got promoted without the background or training in fostering teamwork.  Some started businesses and had to do everything in the beginning and never made the jump from working “in” to working “on” the business.  A good team is much more valuable than the sum of its parts.  Find the people who contribute their talents.  Put them in the roles where they can shine.  Give regular feedback and be open to receiving it from them.  Every team needs role players, starters, stars – find team members who embrace their positions to achieve a common goal.

I know the debate about who the GOAT is will rage on for decades.  Just like Joe Louis vs Rocky Marciano or Mickey Mantle vs Willie Mays.  Is Michael Jordan or LeBron James the GOAT?  Does it matter?  We can certainly learn from the example set by LeBron James and bring that into other areas of business and organizations.  He has shown us that success is within reach if we can master consistency, preparation, and teamwork.  As from a courtside seat, I’d take Jordan for a single game and James for the long haul.