One constant in business is that managers are hired to lead staff members and not necessarily to seek out popularity points and/or close friendships with subordinates.
The moment that a manager shifts from leading to seeking personal relationships; he/she sacrifices the respect of his/her peers.
This rule also applies to leadership in sports.
LeBron James is an enormous talent on the basketball court. He is probably the fastest end-to-end sprinter in the NBA, at 6'8" and 270 lbs.
LeBron can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Youtube is oversaturated with highlights of his facial dunks and highlight-reel passes.
LeBron’s face is plastered on the covers of magazines and billboards around the globe. His team had the best record in the NBA this year, and at times, it appeared as though they were a team of men, playing in a summer league for high-school boys.
Where did it all go wrong?
At the conclusion of the Orlando series, rumors started to swirl regarding the possibility of LeBron leaving Cleveland in 2010 if Danny Ferry and the Cavaliers front office failed to surround him with more “help” during the coming off-season.
I will be the first to announce that LeBron’s supporting cast was only half of the story, in terms of Cleveland’s absolute collapse during the 2009 playoffs. The other 50 percent lies squarely on the shoulders of No. 23.
Die-hard LeBron fans, please exhale, and allow me a moment or so to explain.
LeBron James wants to be a “global icon.” In essence, he wants to be loved by teammates, marketing companies, and fans across the globe. This desire to be loved is what separates LeBron at this point in his career from all of the greats who have led their teams to championships.
I’ve actually viewed footage of guys like Michael Jordan, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson going as far as becoming physical with teammates during nationally-televised games, in fits of anger; as a result of what they perceived to be poor effort from members of their supporting cast.
Who can ever forget the episode where Garnett drove Glen “Baby” Davis to tears, completely undressing him during a time out as a result of Davis daring to step outside of his role on the Celtics team.
I was absolutely stunned recently when cameras locked in on a Lakers timeout, just as Bryant was delivering a blow to the back of Pau Gasol’s head in an effort to force Gasol to stop sleep walking during an important game.
In Game One of the Orlando series, with the Lakers leading by 18, Gasol gave up a free lay-up. On the way to the bench during the next time out, he was rudely greeted by Bryant in a cursing tirade for this bit of slippage.
Former teammates of Michael Jordan have gone as far as to write books about how miserable they were playing alongside MJ, due to the demands and expectations that he placed upon them throughout the course of games and practice sessions.
Magic Johnson failed miserably in his only stint as an NBA coach, and one of the most memorable moments of his short run took place during a team meeting, when Vlade Divac answered his cell phone. As Magic was attempting to deliver a message to the team. he responded by snatching Divac’s cell phone and smashing it to pieces.
Then we come back to the curious case of LeBron James. Yes, we are discussing the guy who acts like a jolly green giant, posing for pictures with teammates prior to games, and hugging guys who are playing absolutely terrible, and lacking effort, hoping that his love and support will motivate them to perform better.
We love his commercials, and my wife insists that LeBron is the cutest “invention” to come along since the inception of Cabbage Patch Dolls. From the Muppet commercials, to the sideline antics during blow out games this previous season, LeBron certainly knows how to appear as a likable character.
That being said, LeBron will never win an NBA championship—until he undergoes a serious transformation, grows up, and takes on a bit of the angry persona that often defines greatness in sports. Long story short, he needs to put away his pre-game photo shoots, and instead, focus on stabilizing the confidence of his supporting cast.
What LeBron must understand, is that if he wins, he will inevitably reach his goal of becoming “larger than basketball,” in a much shorter time than he ever could simply by shooting funny commercials and rubbing elbows with the stars.
My message to Danny Ferry would be this: You have done a tremendous job of surrounding LeBron with talent. There are great expectations placed upon you heading into this coming offseason.
But chances are that you will fail to meet those expectations, if you are unable to convince LeBron to: 1. Sign his extention; and 2. Grow up, and spend more time leading, and less time being a fun and loving teammate.