The Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Championship on Sunday night coming back from the largest deficit in NBA series history. Doing so they highlighted a number of leadership principles which were clear for all to see. Even if you have no idea about basketball these principles are ubiquitously applicable to every area of business and life.
Commitment, grit, passion, perseverance, the ability to overcome adversity, sacrifice for the greater good of the team, luck, realisation of talent and redemption.
- Overcoming Failure: There’s nothing wrong with failure if you learn from it. The Cavs lost the first two games by a combined 48 points, the most in history. In the remaining 6 games, they were able to employ what they learnt from these first two performances to create a plan to attack weaknesses they had seen.
- Never Give Up: Being down 3–1, a historically insurmountable hole that had never been overcome in NBA finals history, it would have been easy to believe the outcome was an inevitability. Instead, the supporters of the team rallied like never before and were able to infuse the players with a passion and level of support they had never experienced before. It inspired them to recognise that they were playing for something bigger than themselves . By overcoming the adversity of such a huge deficit, the Cavs made history and brought unprecedented success to an area in the midst of a 52-year drought. Belief in yourself, your teammates and your supporters can have a dramatic impact on success. If you still have hope and belief there is always a chance of a comeback.
- Trust: You can’t do everything on your own. Trust and belief in those around you to do their job have to exist or you will never achieve your collective dreams. The difference in result between last year and this is indicative of that. Granted a few key pieces may have changed but I can’t see how last years result would have been any different to this. In order to achieve you need to have a team in place that knows it strengths and plays to them. Every part of the team is as important as one another and you have to trust the man/woman next to you to do their bit. Cleveland did that this year.
- Never Shirk Difficult Decisions: They weren’t scared to make a change. Although they were ticking along at a decent rate mid-season, management recognised all was not right. Instead of riding out the season and waiting to see what happened management was proactive. They sacked the manager and replaced him with someone internally who already had the pulse of the team. The change proved to be the spark which ignited the team and significantly improved the performances of the team, ultimately leading to a championship. Some decisions aren’t easy, it would be far simpler to sit back to wait and see what happens but when you realise you have made a mistake it is essential you act as quickly as possible to rectify it. It is often the difference between languishing in mediocrity and making that jump to champions.
- Sacrifice Personal Success for Collective Glory: Kevin Love is a superstar. By every metric, past performance and egotistically he is one of the very best basketball players on the planet. I know some will argue that might no longer be true, due to regression in those numbers and less of a leading role, but I would argue the complete opposite. Love sacrificed personal glory for the opportunity to experience success as part of a team. In sports and in life it is essential we recognise when it is our fight and when overall success is increased by playing a supporting role. In my opinion, Love done the most selfless thing any sportsman can ever do, he recognised the Warriors strength and weaknesses and understood the teams goals were better served by deferring responsibility. The result, a championship and Love contributing to one of the signature defensive stands of the series to deny Curry at 3 at the close of the 4th quarter in game 7.
- Luck: Luck is everywhere in sports and in life. Cleveland got a whole lot of luck born from the stupidity of Green in game 4. If it doesn’t occur do Cleveland come back and win? Impossible to ever know but it certainly made the most crucial game 5 that bit easier. It speaks of the margins at the highest level. One small action can have an incomprehensible effect of the future of an organisation. That being said you must always be in a position to recognise and capitalise on the luck you are afforded. This requires diligence and having the agility which enables you to act quickly.
- Servant Leadership: LeBron James was the prodigal son. Since his precocious teenage years he had been assured success and was well on his way to fulfilling all foretold prophecy’s right up until he didn’t. Strained beneath the weight of expectations LeBrons will cracked and he departed for pastures new in order to realise his championship dreams. Upon doing so he recognised that although fundamentally he had achieved what he set out to, it wasn’t exactly what he craved. Not unlike Steve Jobs returning to Apple LeBron returned to Cleveland. Having gone from revered to hated the relationship came full circle and recognised James’ desire to bring the city what it had always dreamed of. The championship is a culmination of a life’s work for James. It speaks of what can be achieved when you work every single day to achieve with a clear goal in mind. LeBrons early career was filled with the same highlight reel plays which follow him through to today, but he is now a completely different player. He has grown up and experienced first hand that talent isn’t enough. He has worked harder than anyone to achieve what he has and he deserves everything he gets. LeBrons return showed a critical element of Leadership: you need someone with a vision and a map to achieving it. You need someone who unmercifully pursues that in spite of everything else that stands in the way. He has been criticised and much maligned for huge swathes of his career, mostly unfairly, but one thing cannot now be argued. LeBron James is the most inspirational of leaders, he leads the way by doing and serving the needs of those around him. He elevates the performance level of all those around him making the team better than a sum of its parts. LeBron James is a champion and he is a beacon to what it means to lead.