What We Can Learn (Good or Bad) From LeBron James?
*Disclaimer* I do not hate LeBron James. I’m a Knicks fan…and proud of it!
OK so unless you’ve been living under a rock or just not that into sports, you would know by now that the flamboyant self professed King, LeBron James, has opted to leave his hometown Cleveland for sunny skies in Miami. *cue Will Smith’s ‘Welcome to Miami’ song* Yes, LeBron has joined the Heat. Boy are the people in Cleveland HOT. I can’t say that I blame them for feeling betrayed. But they’ll get over it. This morning I was watching CNBC and they talked about Cavs owner Dan Gilbert’s rather scathing, public open letter he wrote and released immediately after LeBron made his announcement. So much is running through my mind. From a business angle, I think this entire story has been a circus and one big ego stroking session for LeBron. My own son spent 30 some odd days counting down the momentous occasion of LeBron choosing where he wanted to go.
Where do I begin. Let’s start with Dan Gilbert and get him out of the way. As the owner of a team I think he has shown a complete lack of class and has publicly set his city and team up for failure. Mr. Gilbert blasted LeBron for making his own FREE WILL decision to move on. The Cavs have not delivered on a championship. That equates to there being no growth on the job. They didn’t make their best efforts to build a solid well oiled machine by bringing in talent (real talent) to complement LeBron. Yes, they’ve gotten as far as an Eastern Championship, but where’s the ring? So how can anyone in their right mind blame LeBron for wanting to move on to find better opportunities? Who wants to stay with a losing team? If he was in a corporate position, I’d say seven years would have been way to long to hang in there with a lackluster company. Then he goes on to GUARANTEE the Cavs will win the championship without LeBron and before he ever gets a chance to. Hah ! Way to be real mature. You have just set your city and team up for a fail of massive proportions. If they couldn’t get it done with LeBron , what makes you think they’ll get it done now? Mr. Gilbert, you are a sore loser, poor boss and even worse “project manager”. NEXT.
On to LeBron. Wow, so much I can say here. But for the sake of time I’ll narrow it to the highlights (good and bad). LeBron, or as you proclaimed yourself King James, I say brilliant move. You have shown not just the sports world, but the business world just how to leverage a strong brand. I’m quite impressed. Not impressed with your court skills, but majorly impressed with your business skills. You have got to be the smartest business man in the NBA and I hope up and coming players take a page out of LeBronomics 101. You have positioned yourself as a valuable employee, commodity if you will that had the world sweating, anticipating, and praying on where you would land. You called your own shots, set your own terms and made great use of your free agency. A lot of times players (and employees) allow themselves to be the company, be the brand and representation so that you cannot separate the business from the person. But you made sure to differentiate your brand and stand away from the team. I’ve always said I would much rather be a contractor/freelancer than a fully engaged employee. There’s a certain freedom you have. You can get in, get the job done, dazzle and impress then move on to the next project. And that’s what you did. Right or wrong, you made the best decision for your brand, your earning potential and your shot at excellence (and a ring). Bravo for you.
However, while I am impressed by the branding and marketing strategies, I’m less impressed by the grand standing, disloyalty, and disrespect. There is a thing called common courtesy and you could have told Dan Gilbert and the team privately that you would not be returning. Yeah, yeah I know it’s about the excitement and the mystery and I’m sure you had a blast. But from a business perspective, common courtesy goes a long way. The right thing to do would have been to let them know at least that you would not be returning home instead of letting them find out on TV. So I can see why Dan and the rest of Cleveland are pissed. Let’s move on to your arrogance. Yes, arrogance…not to be confused with confidence. I’ve seen it in Jordan, Kobe, Rodman, Shaq , etc. It’s not cute. You take it to another level. I can see if you had the ring to back it up, but you don’t. I don’t know if it’s because the public places so much emphasis on you or because you’ve become self important on your own. Either way, it’s not a way to be a TEAM player. It’s the perfect way to be the selfish player.
So how does all of this ranting fit into this blog? I’ll tell you. As a manager you have to respect your players. You should always be sure to give your top talent the support they need whether resources or other talent to complement their strengths. No one person is obligated to any company or team for the life of their career. While we all want to keep the best for ourselves, if we’re not creating the ideal work environment for them to thrive and produce, can we really be angry when they choose to go somewhere where they are more appreciated? No we can’t. If you lose an employee, you learn the lessons from the mistakes that were made and work on revamping what you have. You don’t throw a hissy fit and publicly deride someone for exercising their FREEDOM OF CHOICE. Look to your own blueprint for your company then make adjustments so you can begin to attract top talent and create ideal work environments that make them want to stay and be loyal. And most importantly, if you don’t have the talent don’t make statements or guarantees about delivering excellence when you know you won’t be able to deliver. Man (or woman up) and don’t be a baby about it. Learn and grow.
For the employee or “free agent”, you are absolutely supposed to have confidence in yourself. If you’ve spent your professional life building your skills, owning your craft, then hell yes, you deserve to be confident and self assured. But, you never burn bridges. I tell clients you always end things on a good note, even if you have no desire to ever return. Common courtesy and class are lost these days. If you know you’re not happy and want to leave, at least tell your boss. You don’t have to tell them where you’re going, but a heads up would help. Especially if you’re in a high profile position. Yes, the company that gets you are the lucky ones, but there will always be that thought in the back of their minds that you could bail on them too. It becomes a matter of trust. You don’t want to be known as flaky , unpredictable or worse, disloyal. You don’t want to have a relationship where they feel they need to always keep one eye on you at all times for fear of what you might do. Remember the saying “how you get them is how you lose them”? Keep that in mind. You can be and do anything you want, but always end your business relationships on good terms. No matter how your current business or job relationship is, don’t burn your bridges, ever.
As for branding yourself, I say we all should take a page from LeBron’s book. That man, love him or hate him, has done a hell of a job in branding himself. He has continuously improved his craft, aligned himself with the right people, paid attention to people smarter and richer than himself, and understands his worth. He understands the value he brings to the game, the sport, the world and he’s not afraid to continue to build it. He has done what was in his own best interest and used his business acumen to make sure he was looking out for his future. He wasn’t swayed by money or even “hometown loyalty” (or as I call it guilt). Did he overstay his welcome? Yes I think he did. Seven years is a long time in NBA years to dedicate your heart and soul to a team, a company only to not see tangible results. LeBron sought professional greatness and I am not mad at him for making the decision he did. He refused to allow anyone, any organization dictate where his career goes next. And I think we can all learn from that. He also leveraged the power of negotiation. He wanted what he wanted and was willing to take a pay cut (not that he’d notice!) to get it. If a company wants you bad enough, they’ll be willing to adhere to your terms. He went for what he wanted and didn’t let anything or anyone get in his way or in his head. You’ve got to admire that. More of us need to do that!
Good luck to you LeBron. I’m not a fan of your basketball game, but I am in awe of your business game. I hope it’s all you hope it to be. Dan Gilbert, Grow Up & Do Better!
Til next time.