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