What a difference a year makes.
One year ago, the Miami Heat was arguably the most hated and derided team in professional sports, having lost the NBA championship in a depressing 4-2 series against the Dallas Mavericks. Payback, it was said, for LeBron James dumping the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010 and arrogantly announcing in an overblown TV non-event, “I’m taking my talent to South Beach.” Good riddance, a bitter Cleveland said.
Now, Miami is worshipping its newly crowned NBA champs — and LeBron is getting much of the credit. In the 2011-12 season, he transformed himself from big-headed superstar to inner-focused team player, and all the sports world is hailing the new LeBron.
Anyone who wants to improve their leadership and performance — whether on a sports team or a sales team — should also be inspired by LeBron, teammate Dwyane Wade and Heat-coach-turned-president Pat Riley. Here’s what they taught me:
Focus on the work, not the glory
After the 2012 win, Boston.com quoted LeBron: “Like I said, last year I played to prove people wrong instead of just playing my game, instead of just going out and having fun and playing a game that I grew up loving and why I fell in love with the game.”
Why do you do what you do? To prove to everyone how good you are? To beat the competition into the ground? Chances are you just want to do some good in the world, by selling or creating something of value. Focus on doing that “good”, give that “value” and the recognition will come. People who spend all their time worrying about glory often have nothing left for actually earning the glory.
Leaders are servants first
Miami Herald columnist Dan Le Batard writes that Wade took a page from Riley’s leadership book. In 2006, when Riley was still coaching the team, Wade was a maverick who insisted on playing his own way. Le Batard writes that “instead of reprimanding Wade with the need for ego and control, the leader-coach asked him, ‘How can I help?’ That’s what dawned on Wade this year with one of his best friends in the world. How can I help? Tell me how I can help.”
The leader as servant is one of the primary lessons of Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Your team is not in place to make you look good — but if you help them do their jobs better, you’ll be the big winner. What tools can you provide your team to help them be more productive? Sometimes, just letting them know you want to help is all they need.
Don’t take yourself so seriously
“I’ve heard all the jokes,” LeBron told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols in December 2011. “And now I’m at a point where I just laugh at them. I think last year I would’ve been mad at it [jokes] or angry.”
Laughing at yourself may actually be good for your health, Time reports. In a leadership position, it humanizes you and keeps up your team’s morale. Be careful not to laugh off serious mistakes, of course — but it never hurts to kid yourself over personal gaffes that don’t hurt the bottom line.
The effort matters as much as the results, if not more
LeBron claimed throughout the post-season that he didn’t care if he won it all, as long as he did his best, according to Le Batard.
This isn’t as naïve as it sounds. The Heat won their title one basket at a time, one period at a time, one game at a time. You cannot get to the title by failing in too many of those small steps. Do your best in the planning of your project and each step of its execution, and you’re more likely to add one to your Win column.
Redemption really can happen
If LeBron James can transform himself so completely and so publicly — with the whole world just waiting for him to slip up — I can’t believe the rest of us can’t start over and re-create ourselves if we want to. People can and do change if you give them a chance, even if there’s no trophy riding on it.