10 Leadership Lessons From NBA Champions Cleveland Cavaliers

By now I’m sure you know, the Cleveland Cavaliers made history by defeating the Golden State Warriors in an epic game 7 on Sunday. Cleveland was down 3-1, however, by the end of game 6 the score was tied 3-3. In recent weeks, sports analysts, fans, and haters alike ruled Cleveland out. More specifically, LeBron James was ruled out! Critics spared no mercy in their critique of James’ ability to lead his team to victory. Well, after 52 years, LeBron James and his team did what seemed to be the impossible – they won game 7 and gave Cleveland its trophy. This is why I refer to the old cliche, teamwork makes the dreamwork.

I find business lessons in everything I see. And this historical victory is no exception. As the leader of his team, the CEO of his team, LeBron strategically worked with the coaching staff and his teammates to lead them to victory. When LeBron first returned to Cleveland in 2014, he contributed towards picking his team members, identifying their strengths, and helping them to realize their strengths. This process, however, did not come without challenges and criticism. In the midst of it all, LeBron James continued to declare himself to be the best player in the world and he proved just that by leading his team to victory.

The leadership lessons learned from Cleveland’s 2016 NBA victory are many. Below are my top ten.

  1. Set a goal. From day 1, LeBron’s goal was to bring a trophy to Cleveland. Once that goal was set, every move by LeBron was strategic; which moved him closer to achieving his goal.
  2. Build your team. In order to win, LeBron knew he needed to have a winning team. LeBron’s team may not be perfect (nobody is perfect), however, the team James put together had skills, and talent that once nurtured, would be the perfect fit.
  3. Invest in your team. It takes a great leader to see underdeveloped talents and nurture those talents in order to achieve a collective goal. LeBron challenged his team to not settle. After Golden State Warriors drastic defeat in game 7, reporters asked Steph Curry ‘what went wrong.’ Curry speaking to his own shortcomings in game 7 simply said, “I settled.”
  4. Believe in your team. Although the Cavaliers’ backs were against the wall, they didn’t give up. LeBron believed in his team, as did his coach. During those last 3 games of the series, fans and critics alike were publicly discouraging coach Tyronn Lue to sit Kevin Love. The fans lost faith – but LeBron and Lue did not. And as a result, Love had a key defensive play in game 7, a play that helped lead the Cavaliers to victory.
  5. Create a strategy. The Cavaliers knew they were up against a team that presumably would not give them an easy victory. The Cavaliers had a strategy in place. In creating a strategy, they had to know the strengths of their team. As a leader, you should know your team and be clear on what they bring to the table. Use this knowledge to create an effective strategy that will take you from point a to z.
  6. Be willing to adjust. After consecutive losses to the Warriors, it was obvious that the Cavaliers initial strategy wasn’t effective.  During post-game interviews, Lebron said on several occasions, “I have to watch the tape,” “I have to look at the play and make adjustments.” In studying their plays, he was able to see what worked and what failed. As a result, they adjusted their strategy. The team remained the same. However, they had to adjust their strategy in order to achieve their goal. Be willing to adjust. Review your strategy frequently and make sure that you’re still on course.
  7. Accept responsibility. LeBron and his teammates were willing to acknowledge defeat, take ownership and learn from their mistakes. It is not always an easy task to be on top of your game all the time. We will make mistakes. How we respond to those mistakes can make all the difference in the world. The Cavaliers were not in denial of their shortcomings, accepted responsibility and made the necessary adjustments.
  8. Believe. LeBron never stopped believing he could win. He kept telling his teammates, if we can just get one more win. LeBron and his team actually had three consecutive wins, leading to them to the championship. He believed in his team, and they believed in him.
  9. Empower your team. During the game breaks, we often saw LeBron encouraging his teammates. And at times, the encouragement didn’t always look nice. As a leader, there are times when those moments of empowerment will have to be stern, yet encouraging. LeBron’s bar of expectation is high, not only for himself, but his team as well. With each win, the ability to achieve their goal of winning the NBA Championship was becoming more realistic. In the midst of it all, leaders, we must empower our team.
  10. Celebrate your victory. LeBron celebrated his victory. In the moments immediately following the win, with tears streaming down his face, LeBron embraced Kevin Love, the team member who seemingly received the most public criticism. Love, who some consider to be the weakest link of that team – LeBron hugged him. This hug was captured in a photo that has gone viral. In my opinion, this image (below) speaks volumes. Don’t forget your team. When you’ve reached your goal, celebrate everyone involved. Each person on your team brings their own set of dynamics. Remember, it is the Teamwork That Makes The Dream Work.

    James and Love
    Photo Credit: Boston Globe

LeBron James’ first NBA Title: A Professional and Personal Victory

Photo courtesy of NBA

For the past several months I’ve listened and watched as sportscasters, friends and colleagues alike have spoken ill of the now 2012 NBA championship winner, LeBron James. I’m relatively a “newbie” when it comes to basketball; however, I consider myself an intelligent woman, so naturally it didn’t take me long to figure out why there were so many LeBron “haters.”

It seemingly all began when James was a player for the Cleveland Cavaliers and made “the decision” to leave Cleveland and join Miami Heat. According to “critics” It wasn’t just the fact that James joined the Heat; it was the immature, self-centered way in which he went about it. If I’ve not learned anything else, what I have learned about basketball fans is that they are extremely loyal. They will stick with their team and respective players to the very end. No matter how badly they play or how arrogant the players are, the fans are fans for life. If you doubt this, then take a look at the millions of loyal New York Knicks fans who have never jumped ship; but that’s another blog post.  With that type of loyalty it’s no wonder LeBron’s decision to make a very public and unapologetic departure from the Cavaliers rubbed folks the wrong way.  I can remember shortly after James signed with Miami Heat, there was, in my opinion, an exaggerated  “Miami Heat Celebration for the Big Three,” LeBron, Wade and Bosh. Watching the fan-fare that day even left me feeling a bit disgusted. Well, LeBron James has been on everyone’s hit list ever since.

Photo courtesy of NBAIt would take a dozen blog pages to thoroughly explain the steps taken for James to get to this time in history and that is not my intent or desire.  I do have one question… What will it take for LeBron to redeem himself? Less than 24 hours after he clearly earned his NBA championship ring, many critics continue to criticize LeBron James. While many clearly see his professional transformation and maturity over the past year, there are still many who continue to focus on his past.  By his own admission, James has done and said things that he would have done differently. We’re all guilty of letting our emotions get the best of us. I say to the LeBron critics, don’t you have a past that you’d rather soon forget? So what is it that makes us so judgmental of others? What I’ve seen in James is someone who has done quite a bit of self-reflection and fought hard to become a better person on and off the court.

When I hear Lebron’s story, I see not only LeBron James, I see a generation of people simply traveling through this thing called life and trying to be the best we can be.

Out of all the lessons I’ve learned from watching basketball this past season, I witnessed the importance of acknowledging mistakes, making a self-assessment, setting goals and working towards that goal. LeBron James, the greatest player of this generation reminded me of those lessons. He took a much-needed self-assessment and did what he had to do to make a change that would not only impact his life, but the lives of others. Not only did James become the 2012 NBA champion, but he also became a better man for it. We should celebrate not only his professional victory but his personal victory as well. He is indeed a role model, for kids, college students and business professionals.

Will you take a chapter from LeBron’s very public life lesson and apply it to the areas of your life that need improvement? You too can be a champion; however, like LeBron James, you must be willing to do what it takes to get there.

Congratulations LeBron James and Miami Heat for a job well done.