As the NBA Finals begin this week between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, we might want to pause for a moment to marvel at LeBron James. Of course, we know about the MVP’s, the super-dunks, and the tripe-doubles, but the leadership he has provided this Cavaliers team is truly extraordinary, and extremely rare to see in sports today. Not only has he elevated his game (averaging almost a triple-double in the playoffs), but he has raised the game of almost every other player on the roster. Even with an Eastern Conference that is down, James came back to Cleveland with a new coach and new teammates and is actually doing the impossible by being on the cusp of his 3rd title (and Cleveland’s first since 1964).
Quickly, can you think of another sports superstar out there today that can take his team as far as James has under similar conditions? I can’t, and I can’t even remember the last athlete I would compare James to with respect to his leadership and team building abilities.
Check out what teammate Kevin Love said about James this week:
“I think it’s tough. Was he bouncier at one point? Physically, it’s tough to say,” Love said. “But as far as up here [mentally], I think he’s ahead of where he was. Being able to make everybody around him better, it’s a great quality. He doesn’t lack that at all. I think he’s truly done a phenomenal job with guys going down and helping others to play better.”
Malcontent JR Smith has flourished in Cleveland largely because of James. Timofey Mozgov has at times looked like an all-NBA player. Matthew Dellavedova has gone from a borderline D-League level player to a very viable piece of the team. The list goes on and on, and the common denominator to all of these guys playing levels beyond what anybody ever thought is LeBron James.
What business leaders can learn from LeBron
I have taught many college business courses over the years, and I have especially enjoyed our in-class discussions around leadership and team building in the business world. While examining the various theories around developing a successful work team, the students would inevitably parlay the discussion to sports, and use successful sports teams as case studies. In the future, business textbooks might want to devote an entire chapter to LeBron James, as he is currently demonstrating many of the core components witnessed (pun intended) in successful leadership and team building:
- Empowerment. James has empowered his teammates, and has even had some (i.e. Iman Shumpert) accompany him at the post-game interview table.
- Trust. James has regularly put teammates in a position to succeed, often in key, crunch-time situations.
- Honesty. James has admitted when he has had bad games, and not deflected it anywhere but on himself.
- Defending teammates. James was the first to defend Matthew Dellavedova after many were calling him a dirty player for his scrappy play.
We use sport analogies all the time in the non-sport world, but perhaps we should be watching LeBron James and his approach to leadership if we really want to learn something. James has created an environment of trust and respect, and the result of his efforts is a team playing above expectations and on the verge of an NBA championship.
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