Use Basketball to Shed New Light on Your Leadership

 In Team Performance

I’ve just returned from watching a live Lakers versus Knicks game — and I am one excited person right now. I was sitting before a deafening sellout crowd in Madison Square Garden and it was a thing of pure beauty.

Here’s something you need to know about me. I’m a lifelong Lakers fan drawn in by the inimitable style of Ervin “Magic” Johnson. Quite simply, he made the game so much fun. And despite the fact we all know (and try to ignore) that professional basketball is a hardcore business, I believe that these “games” are supposed to be fun. Johnson made the impossible look easy with a huge smile on his face when he played the game. It gave so many fans a vicarious hit of his magical fun to appreciate the game even more.

Most recently, nothing has reinforced just how much the NBA is run as a strict, dictatorial business without any regard for the true spirit of the game. Basketball Commissioner David Stern has continued to exercise his old school, authoritarian leadership approach and almost brought the game to its collective knees this season. And play came to a complete halt while endless negotiations took place.

Now, because of the long impasse, players are playing game after game, back to back. Big ego stars are weary, injured, and in their spare time, criticizing each other via tweets about whose dunk was better and who wants to be liked. What fun, right?

And suddenly when the game needs it most, along comes an unlikely point guard who was cut from two teams last year before finding his way to the end of New York’s bench where he languished until this past week. Jeremy Lin, a Harvard graduate and one of the few Asian Americans in the game, is now the toast of the NBA, posting careers numbers that have led the injury plagued Knicks to seven consecutive victories. Lin is bringing that long overdue smile back to everyone’s face.

His new found success on the court is a breath of fresh air. He has almost single handedly put fun back into the game.

Leadership is truly about doing the extraordinary and making it look easy. That’s what Magic did. That’s what Jeremy Lin is doing. And he’s doing it with the best of them, including one of the most storied teams in the game.

You want to know another reason that Lin is shining? Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni is giving Lin the freedom to play the game the best way he knows how. He’s staying out of the way to let Lin figure out his own game.

And I dare say it seems to be working.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m gonna bust my butt running up and down a court miles on end, I’d like to have some say in exactly how I do that. And some fun while I’m doing it. Yes, I want to win. Are you kiddin’ me? But in order to love this game, it has to empower its players to succeed.

If you think about it, that’s exactly what the players on your team want, too. Leadership isn’t just about executing or barely pulling it off like the NBA has demonstrated. The tough guy style that David Stern promoted has run its course in not only basketball but just about any leadership setting.

To keep your team working hard, remember that they want:

  • To have fun while they’re in the game. Whether it’s a business or not.
  • To have your leadership, your inspiration and your encouragement – not you telling or yelling at them – with commanding instructions on what to do, how to do it and when.
  • To have the freedom to make their own decisions – and mistakes — so they can learn from them. And grow and develop.

So how are you going to strengthen your team at work? Right off the bat, you will expect help from those who are good at what they do. But don’t forget those people who bring a blend of fun to the mix and who have a team focus. And those humble benchwarmers need to be appreciated for their unique contributions.

Find the Jeremy Lin’s on your team and give them the space to be remarkable. Watch the game unfold as you exhibit what makes a leader great both on and off the court.

To Your Success,