3 Leadership Lessons from LeBron James’ Return to Cleveland

LeBron James

Over the last few weeks, fans of the NBA, and sports fans in general, have been eagerly awaiting the news of where LeBron James will be playing basketball next season. He chose to opt-out of his contract with the Miami Heat at the conclusion of this past season, and speculation has run rampant about whether he would stay in Miami or return to the Cleveland Cavaliers where he began his career 11 years ago, drafted #1 into the NBA as a 19 year-old kid just out of high school. Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few days, you know the decision: LeBron is going home to Cleveland.

James’ decision to return to Cleveland, presumably where he will finish his career, presents some interesting leadership lessons:

1. Move from success to significance – LeBron James left Cleveland 4 years ago in pursuit of success and he found it in Miami, winning 2 NBA titles and 2 league MVP’s. Despite that success, something was missing: significance. In his book, Halftime: Moving From Success to Significance, Bob Buford says at some point in life (often around middle age) you will have to transition from the struggle for success to the quest for significance. We spend the first half of our life striving to earn more money, get a better title, or gain more possessions. Despite our success, we begin to question the lasting value of our accomplishments and our desires turn toward wanting to leave a lasting legacy. James recognizes this is his opportunity for significance. It’s his chance to influence other players, the city, and the state. James said, “My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.” The transition from success to significance also involves the identification of what brings you true joy and happiness. James said it simply about why he is returning to Cleveland: “This is what makes me happy.”

2. Serve others and something greater than yourself – Part of moving from leadership success to significance is realizing leadership is not about you; it’s about the people you influence. LeBron James has grown to realize this truth. He said, “I know that I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go. I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys.” Leadership is more than a job; it’s a calling. It’s a sacred opportunity to help other people grow into their full potential and achieve more than they could on their own. James said, “I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously.”

3. Leadership wisdom involves learning the lessons of past experiences – When LeBron James decided to leave Cleveland four years ago, he made the announcement in an over-hyped ESPN television special called “The Decision.” He announced that he was “taking his talents” to South Beach to play for the Miami Heat. People in Cleveland burned his jersey in effigy, called him a traitor (and much worse), and the owner of the Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, wrote a scathing letter to the public where he described James as “narcissistic” and his decision to leave a “cowardly betrayal.” James has learned from his experiences and grown as a person and a leader. “If I had to do it all over again, I’d obviously do things differently,” he said. “These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man. Without the experiences I had there (Miami), I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today.” LeBron has also learned that leadership wisdom involves recognizing the mistakes you make and working to repair them. Regarding his relationship with Gilbert he said, “I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?”

LeBron James entered the NBA with ridiculously high expectations, as evidenced by the moniker assigned him: The Chosen One. Being born in Akron, OH, he was Cleveland’s native son, the savior of the franchise, and heir-apparent to Michael Jordan as the world’s greatest basketball player. In spite of the unreal expectations placed on him and the inevitable bumps in the road he’s experienced, James has seemed to grow into a more self-assured leader who has gained clarity on his purpose on and off the court. That’s a worthy goal for leaders everywhere.

Posted in Leadership, Sports, Success | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

21 Seeds of Trust – If you don’t sow it, you can’t grow it!

sowing-seeds1Building trust at work is much like growing plants in a garden; you have to sow the seeds. If you don’t sow it, you can’t grow it.

It doesn’t matter how rich the soil is in your garden, how much sunlight it receives, or how often you water, if you don’t sow the seeds, you won’t have any plants. In your relationships at work, it doesn’t matter how educated you are, how much money you make, or how successful you are (by whatever standard you want to apply), if you don’t sow the seeds of trust then it won’t develop in your relationships.

If it sounds elementary, well, that’s because it is. Trust in relationships at work begins by demonstrating your trustworthiness. It’s that simple. To get you started, listed below are 21 seeds of trust. Sow these seeds of trust and you’ll reap a harvest of high-trust relationships at work.

  1. Constantly learn, grow, and get better at what you do.
  2. Generously share your expertise with others.
  3. Develop self-awareness (emotional intelligence).
  4. Focus on doing the right thing and doing things right.
  5. Develop good problem-solving and decision-making skills.
  6. Admit mistakes.
  7. Make ethical choices.
  8. Make decisions in alignment with your personal values and those of the organization.
  9. Avoid gossip.
  10. Don’t play favorites.
  11. Tell the truth.
  12. Listen with the intent of being influenced.
  13. Be authentic and genuine.
  14. Accept feedback as a gift.
  15. Share credit with others.
  16. Keep your promises.
  17. Meet deadlines.
  18. Be on time.
  19. Respect and appreciate your co-workers.
  20. Praise the good work of others.
  21. Create win-win solutions.

Twenty-one simple seeds of trust. If you sow it, you can grow it!

What other seeds of trust would you recommend sowing? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Posted in Trust, Trust Boosters | Tagged | 14 Comments

Defensiveness Is Killing Your Relationships – How To Recognize It and What To Do About It

DefensivenessYour defensiveness is killing your relationships and you don’t even realize it.

What? Me being defensive? I’m not defensive! YOU’RE the one that’s always defensive!

That’s a classic defensive response to a piece of feedback. Throw up a wall, rebut the statement, and accuse the other person of the same complaint. The sad thing is many of us react defensively without even thinking about it. In her book, A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives, Cordelia Fine points out that we think other people’s bad behavior toward us is intentional, but we dismiss our own bad behavior as inadvertent, a mistake, or unavoidable due to circumstances out of our control. This allows us to feel morally superior to the other person while simultaneously protecting our ego from the possibility that we may actually be incompetent or acting like a jerk.

The Causes of Defensiveness

People react defensively because they anticipate or perceive a threat in their environment, not usually because they’re just wanting to be difficult. Unfortunately, defensive behavior creates a reciprocal cycle. One party acts defensively, which causes the other party to respond defensively, which in turn causes the first party to raise their defenses even higher, and so on and so on. Defensive behavior can be a complex and murky issue. For many people, their behavioral patterns stem from emotional, mental, or personality issues/tendencies developed over the course of their lifetimes (feelings of abandonment, inferiority, low self-esteem, narcissism, etc.).

Beyond the mental and emotional factors, there are types of behaviors that cause people to respond defensively. Defensive communication expert Jack Gibbs outlines six behavioral categories that create defensive responses in people:

  1. Dogmatism – Black and white, I’m right and you’re wrong, either/or, and other kinds of all or nothing thinking and communication cause people to react defensively.
  2. Lack of accountability – Shifting blame, making excuses, and rationalizing behavior leads people to raise their defense levels.
  3. Controlling/Manipulative – Using all sorts of behaviors to control or manipulate people will lead to defensive behavior. No one likes to feel like they are being used by someone else.
  4. Guarded/Withholding Information – When people feel like they are being left in the dark or purposely excluded from having information they should know, they are threatened and will react defensively.
  5. Superiority – Want someone to be defensive? Then act like you’re better than him/her, lord your power, knowledge, or position over them and see how they respond.
  6. Critical – A constant focus on catching people doing something wrong, rather than right, creates a climate of defensiveness.

How to Deal With Your and Other People’s Defensive Behavior

Dealing with defensive behavior can be complex and exhausting because it’s hard to separate a person from their behavior or the situation. And as mentioned earlier, some people’s defensiveness is so deeply rooted in their behavioral patterns that there is little realistic chance they will permanently change. However, there are some helpful strategies we can use to deal with our own defensiveness and that of others:

  • Re-frame the behavior – Rather than label a person’s defensive behavior as bad, understand it for what it is – defensive. Once you understand it as defensive, then you can explore why the person is feeling threatened and work to address the threat(s). One of the reasons we get so frustrated with defensive people is we try to deal with the behavior without addressing the threat that is causing the behavior.
  • Reduce the danger – Once you’ve identified the threat(s) causing the defensive behavior, work to reduce the perceived danger. Be moderate in your tone, even-tempered, empathize with their concerns, be respectful, and respond non-defensively to avoid escalating tensions.
  • Develop self-awareness and emotional intelligence – Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence. Through self-improvement, counseling, training, or mentoring, explore the causes of your defensive behavior. What are the triggers that make you feel threatened? Having a better understanding of yourself will not only help you regulate your own behavior, it will give you better insight into the behavior of others as well.
  • Replace negative feedback with questions or offers to help – If you have to regularly deal with someone who reacts defensively, you’ve probably noticed that the slightest bit of negative feedback sets them off. Try replacing the negative feedback with a question or an offer to help. For example, instead of saying “Sally, you made a mistake on this report,” rephrase it by saying “Sally, I’m not sure I understand this section on the report. Could you help me figure it out?” Remember, a person acts defensively because he/she perceives a threat. Try to make the situation non-threatening.
  • Move from dogmatism to openness – The less people feel boxed in to either/or, yes/no, right/wrong choices, the less threatening the situation. Of course there are times where things need to be done a specific way, but if you approach the situation with a spirit and attitude of openness rather than “my way or the highway,” you’ll get a more open response.
  • Treat people as equals – Approach other people in a collaborative manner, looking for ways to help them win in the situation. Take time to identify and recognize their needs, discover what’s important to them, and validate their concerns.

Defensiveness destroys relationships from the inside-out. It creates a climate of contention and tension that eventually leads to a loss of trust, alienation, and separation. The opposite of defensiveness, openness, creates an atmosphere of freedom, growth, respect and trust. Identifying the root of defensiveness in our relationships, and working toward addressing and removing those issues, will help improve the overall quality of our relationships and the productivity of our teams and organizations.

Posted in Attitude, Communication, Emotions, Fear, Personality, Relationships, Trust Busters | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Catch People Doing Something Right – 4 Ways to Build Workplace Morale

Happy FacesCreating a workplace culture that breeds high morale and engagement doesn’t happen by accident. It requires leadership – wise, empathetic, discerning, thoughtful, strategic, and caring leadership. And it’s a leadership you can’t fake. It has to flow from the ethos of who you are as a person.

For the last 18 years I’ve had the privilege of working for Ken Blanchard, a man who knows a thing or two about leadership. Along with his wife Margie, he has created a leadership development company that embodies several principles of a high engagement culture. In traditional Blanchard style, I’ve taken some complex issues of morale and engagement and tried to crystallize them into simple truths that all leaders can use to build morale in their organizations.

Catch People Doing Something Right

Too many work environments are focused on catching people making mistakes. In a well-intentioned effort to improve productivity and efficiency, leaders are prone to reduce an employee’s performance into raw data, metrics, and statistics. Every detail is parsed and analyzed and people’s shortcomings are readily pointed out. Years ago Ken Blanchard said, “People who feel good about themselves produce good results, and people who produce good results feel good about themselves.” It’s a virtuous cycle built on the concept of catching people doing something right. One of the easiest and quickest ways a leader can improve workplace morale is to notice, encourage, and celebrate the good things that are happening. It’s a common occurrence at The Ken Blanchard Companies for us to start meetings with the agenda item of “praisings and celebrations.” We take time to intentionally focus on the good things people are doing and celebrate their successes.

Be Other Focused

Another strategy for enhancing workplace morale is to serve others. It’s hard to be self-centered, critical, and myopic about your own business when you reach out and help others less fortunate. We have an in-house charity organization called Blanchard for Others that supports numerous local, national, and world charities. Employees have a voice in not only directing funds to these organizations, but getting personally involved. Employee volunteer efforts are encouraged through the use of “Blanchard Ambassador” hours—paid time off apart from an employee’s own vacation time—that allow team members to serve with charities locally and abroad. You can build employee morale by not only engaging their minds at work, but their hearts as well.

Treat Your People How You Want Them to Treat Your Customers

The manner in which you treat your people will be the manner in which they treat your customers. It doesn’t matter if you have a catchy customer service slogan, wallpaper the office with posters of the company mission statement and values, or create fancy marketing materials touting your brand promise, if you treat your people like they’re irresponsible, untrustworthy, and have to be micromanaged, they’ll treat your customers the same way. At Blanchard, people are extended a fair amount of autonomy in their roles to do what’s in the best interest of our clients. Leadership takes this same approach with employees through various programs like Infant at Work, where new mothers are encouraged to bring their infants to work until they reach 6 months of age. The company also sets aside a certain percentage of our profits for employees to donate to the charity of their choice through our Give Back program. The employee, not the company, decides where that money will be used. Autonomy and flexibility are key components in creating a high-morale workplace.

It’s the Culture, Stupid

To plagiarize Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign slogan (“It’s the economy, stupid”)—It’s the culture, stupid! At the end of the day, the creation of a high-morale, highly engaged workforce is about intentionally nurturing the norms and behaviors you want in your culture and extinguishing those you don’t. Every day Ken Blanchard leaves a “morning message” voicemail for the entire company. In that message, Ken takes the opportunity to reinforce the core values of our culture. He praises accomplishments of individuals, share concerns for those in need, discusses his latest insights about life and leadership, or shares other inspirational ideas and encouragement.

Any single one of these strategies is insufficient in itself, and certainly not appropriate for every organization. However, taken together, they weave together to form the fabric of our culture that results in a highly engaged, positive morale workforce. It doesn’t matter your industry, geography, or size of organization when it comes to building a high-morale culture. It starts with leadership. It starts with you!

This post was originally published at Switch & Shift as part of a series on workplace morale. I encourage you to check it out!

Posted in Attitude, Engagement, Leadership, Morale, Motivation | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Tony Gwynn – 4 Lessons Beyond the Baseball Field

Tony GwynnTony Gwynn passed away today at the young age of 54 after battling salivary gland cancer the last few years. Tony was an inspirational role model to me. It wasn’t so much what he accomplished that inspired me…although his accomplishments are mind boggling…but how he went about it. Tony was always low-key and understated, never self-promoting, yet the consummate professional. I always admired how Tony handled himself, not just as a player, but as a man.

While in high school I followed Tony’s career at San Diego State University, where he was an All-America athlete in both basketball and baseball. I graduated high school in 1984, Tony’s first full season in the majors and the year he helped lead the San Diego Padres to their first World Series appearance. It was a magical time in San Diego and was the beginning of a love affair between Tony and the city. I, like so many other people, grew from childhood to adulthood watching Tony play baseball for the hometown team.

Tony went on to become the premier hitter of his generation and one of the greatest baseball players of all time. As a youth baseball coach for 15 years, Tony was my constant example to the kids of how to play the game the right way. I always told my players that one of the reasons I love the game of baseball is that it teaches so many life lessons. The long season, full of highs and lows, is a metaphor for our experiences in life. Tony taught me a number of lessons that I’ve tried to apply in my work and life:

  • Approach  your work as a craftsman – Tony was a master craftsman when it came to hitting a baseball. It was both an art and science to him and he studied it endlessly. Tony was a pioneer in the use of video to study his own at-bats as well as opposing pitchers. Tony has inspired me to approach my own career as a craftsman. Every day is an opportunity to improve my craft. Tony once said that “You can’t live on what you did yesterday. You have to go out and prove yourself every day.”
  • Show loyalty – Tony spent his entire 20 year career with Padres, a rarity in today’s world of superstar athletes auctioning their services to the highest bidding team. Tony knew what he wanted, where he wanted to live and raise his family, and he placed a higher priority on those goals than simply making a buck. Loyalty breeds trust, and Tony was trusted to always be loyal. He’s called “Mr. Padre” for a reason.
  • Be dedicated – Of course Tony is known as a great hitter, and rightly so. He was so dedicated that he would hit thousands of balls off a tee to hone the mechanics of his swing. But Tony also became a very good outfielder because of his dedicated work habits. He wanted to be known as an excellent defensive player and he worked hard at it, eventually winning five Gold Glove awards. Although he wasn’t blessed with outstanding arm strength or range in the field, Tony made up for it with expert positioning in the field and knowledge of opposing hitters. Tony displayed his dedication by working endless hours, always on a quest to be the best player he could be.
  • Have fun – Tony loved to play. He enjoyed the process of playing baseball, from practice, to the actual game, to post-game film breakdown, it was all fun to Tony. Tony always had a smile on his face and a laugh to share. His joyful, positive approach to life was the perfect antidote to a game predicated on failure. Even during his cancer treatments in the last few years of his life, he always had a positive outlook that tomorrow would be a brighter day

Tony was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 2007, an honor worthy of being this generation’s greatest batsman. Today, Tony joined the eternal hall of fame, an honor worthy of a man who lived his life as a positive role model to me and so many others.

Posted in Leadership, Loyalty, Professionalism, Sports, Success, Trust | Tagged | 5 Comments