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4 Leadership Lessons from the NBA Finals

If it wasn’t for my husband’s love of sports, I would not have had a clue about the NBA finals this last week. But, he’s fanatic when it comes to watching a good game, and sometimes I’ll enjoy them with him. That was the case this past Sunday when we viewed the NBA final game between the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs.

Now mind you, my knowledge of basketball is very limited. I played for one season in 7th grade, and my coach was dismayed that I would close my eyes whenever I tried to make a basket! Anyway, suffice it to say that I’m in no position to give basketball advice. However, I will toss my hat in the leadership ring!

In the beginning of the game the Heat was looking hot, while the Spurs were acting like a pimply faced kid that committed to go to the prom, but was scared of actually showing up. The announcers were eating it up and singing their praises of LeBron James for (of all things) his leadership!

They referenced and cut to the clip of him huddling up with his teammates. “Follow my lead,” LeBron bellows out. According to the announcers this was an exceptional show of inspiring leadership…barf!

Courtesy of – In case you don’t recognize him, this is LeBron James.

If you fast forward toward the end of the game, the Spurs are giving the Heat a smack down, leading by 20ish points. They looked tight. Meanwhile, the Heat was struggling. More importantly, LeBron was spent (as observed by my husband), he couldn’t sustain the energy to carry the team any longer and they languished.

Now, we’ll cut to the awards ceremony where the trophy is presented first to the owner of the Spurs. When the announcer asks him about the secret to success he answers, “My secret is these guys behind me…It doesn’t start at the top, it starts with them.” He goes on to say that it’s the people that set the Spurs apart from other teams. And the rest of the team echos these sentiments as they’re interviewed.

Of course, the announcers completely missed their opportunity to highlight exceptional leadership! They might know about basketball, but they clearly lack knowledge about what it takes to be an effective leader. So, I’ll take this opportunity to interject 4 leadership lessons from the NBA finals.

photo by Bob Donnan – USA TODAY Sports

1. Having an elevated stature does not make you a leader – Just because LeBron James has exceptional talent as a basketball player does not make him an insta-leader. This is a common misconception that stature or position equals leadership. Just because you are in a position of authority does not mean that people will make the choice to follow you. Barking out orders is what a manager does while a leader excites and entices you to join together to create a compelling vision for the future.

2. Ego gets in the way of exceptional leadership – Hogging the spotlight and making a lot of me/I statements are poor form for any leader. “Follow my lead” is an incredibly self-centered statement to make. When a leader is fixated on their own glory, they lose sight of their deeper purpose and vision. The people around them become disengaged as their efforts become less about a shared goal and more about uplifting their own pedestal.

3. Leadership is not about carrying all the weight – A good leader will take the blame when they fail and give the glory to others when they  succeed. But in no instance will they continuously carry all the weight to create their vision. For starters, it’s not sustainable. But it is also indicative of lost leadership. If team members do not possess a sense of shared ownership, they will not step in line to work together; you’re not actually leading when you’re doing it all alone.

4. Leadership is about empowering people – An exceptional leader pushes those around them to grow beyond what they thought themselves capable of; while also empowering them to do what they do best. A talented leader knows that leveraging the strengths and passions of others helps the collective whole reach heightened levels of success. Just based on what I saw at NBA the finals game, the Spurs’ leadership gets this. They work well together while uplifting each other, as a result this team has reached a heightened level of success that no one player could achieve on their own.

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