Lead Like LeBron


More than two years ago, LeBron James returned to Cleveland. With it, the entire state of Ohio was placed on the broad shoulders of his 6’8”, 260-pound frame, more than 50 years of championship baggage from every local team dragging behind him, and one goal looming overhead: bring a championship back to Cleveland.

On the night of Sunday, June 19, 2016, weight was lifted, curses reversed, and the goal reached, with more than 30 million people watching. He led his team as the first to come back from a three-games-to-one deficit and win the title. He led his team to defeat an opponent that won more games in the regular season than any team in history. And he led his team – and the other team – in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks in the seven-game finals, on his way to MVP honors.

This was James’ sixth straight appearance in the NBA Finals and seventh overall. He won twice with Miami, lost twice with Miami, and lost twice with Cleveland. It is common for pundits to wonder which road – through which team – another team must beat to win the title. Perhaps the answer has been there all along…the road to the Finals has been running through James.

And he has been running toward his ultimate goal: returning a trophy to his hometown. James did it in spectacular fashion with efforts like this, which will simply be known as “The Block:”

James has gone through a maturation process before our eyes from a high-profile high schooler, to making a misstep in announcing his departure for Miami,* to an older, more humble, and perhaps wiser man returning to Cleveland. While neither you nor I can run, jump, shoot, or defy gravity like LeBron James, we can do one thing like him: learn to lead. Here are three lessons he’s provided:

  1. Believe in Yourself and Those Assembled around You. While everyone may not be as talented as the main player or the CEO, each person brings something different to the team, while all work toward the same goal. Historically, it was easy to doubt the Cavaliers as no other team had come back from such a deficit. James helped his team, and city, believe the seemingly impossible. And now they do…with a new trophy in hand.
  1. Focus on Today before Worrying about Tomorrow. Do you know how you climb a mountain? Easy: one step at a time. The Cavaliers couldn’t win three games in one night. Not even two. To achieve such a comeback, they needed to only win Game 5. And then Game 6. And then Game 7. A monumental task may not be accomplished in one day, but breaking it up and achieving small goals toward your overall victory makes it not only manageable, but achievable.
  1. Let the Haters Hate. When you’re anointed “The Chosen One” and do yourself no favors by referring to yourself as “The King,” as James has done, criticism and scrutiny are sure to follow. Even when you try your best or do your best, others will compare you to others, not acknowledge your achievements, or even simply refuse to like you.One of the toughest parts of leading is realizing not everyone is going to like or agree with you. But leading isn’t about being liked. It’s about staying true to what you believe is right; the plan you have put in place, the people on your team, and the small victories on your way to your overall goal. Like James, block out the noise and focus on the vision. In the end, you’ll be the one smiling – or crying with tears of joy – at what you’ve accomplished.


*Many chastised LeBron (including me) for announcing that he was “taking his talents to Miami” in a televised spectacle that riled many, especially those in Cleveland. However, what many sometimes forget (including me) is that this “horrible PR move” still raised $2.5 million for the Boys and Girls club of Greenwich, Conn. If only all of our worst PR moves were still so charitable.


A Champion Comes Home


By now, or unless you’ve gone on a fasting diet of all things media since last Friday, July 11, you’ve heard that LeBron James (@KingJames), arguably the best basketball player (currently) on the planet, announced that he was “coming home;” going back to where his career began with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He brilliantly passed PR 101 with his announcement, where he miserably and memorably failed it with “The Decision” just four years ago.

So in a society that loves the rise, the fall, and the rebirth of athletes and celebrities, what made the difference? It’s often the personal willingness to get to the rebirth phase. It’s the difference between a Roger Clemens and an Andy Pettitte or a Jason Giambi and an A-Rod.

In his letter, LeBron, whether knowingly or unknowingly…but probably knowingly, hit some of the key points when facing a crisis communications situation after an event has occurred:

  • Acknowledge the Issue: “If I had to do it all over again, I’d obviously do things differently.”
  • Empathy (For any victims, including a possible apology; which will be debated in legal circles until the end of time): “Northeast Ohio…I sometimes feel like I’m their son…it drives me…I want to give them hope when I can… I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.”
  • Has it Happened Before or Why Did it Happen: “These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man. I learned from a franchise…without the experiences I had there, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today.”
  • What Will Be Done Differently: “I’d obviously do things differently…I’m not promising a championship…I’m not having a press conference or a party…it’s time to get to work.”

With that, LeBron has not only come home, but he’s also shown how to “turn the corner.”

Cleveland Rocks…They Better

In the past week, the Forest City (which makes sense given it sits on the southern shore of a massive lake), has conducted a pretty impressive run in two different sports and the political arena. Since May, Cleveland has seen the arrival of the football circus known as Johnny Manziel, landed the next Republican National Convention, drafted the No. 1 pick in the NBA (again) with Andrew Wiggins (yes, this Andrew Wiggins)*, and the world’s best basketball player announced he was coming back to his hometown basketball team (more on that in my post “A Champion Comes Home.”)

Not a bad past few months. Makes my becoming a parent for the first time, switching jobs and industries, and starting a blog in that same time period seem pretty mundane.

How did they pull it off? Different circumstances in the various sports and city government played a part, but surely each entity followed some general themes that can be found when either selecting the right talent for your organization or going after your goal, even if that means an employee “bringing his talents” back to where they began.

  • Keep Your End Goal In Mind: Both the Browns and Cavs needed dynamic players to re-energize their franchises, as well as needs for certain positions. The Browns moved up to get theirs; the Cavs stayed put for theirs. Know what you want and make the right moves to get it.
  • Be Willing to Deal: The city made a hard pitch to the RNC and it paid off. In any courtship, there are certain compromises that are made, but if both parties view it as a “win,” than those concessions are merely “capital.”
  • The Truth Will Set You Free: The Cavs’ owner met with LeBron and they both admitted faults in the past to pave the way for a repaired future. Sometimes “my bad” is the gateway to a marvelous new beginning.

Cleveland’s motto is “Progress & Prosperity” and the last week has certainly lived up to the first part of that billing. Now, with it driving a seemingly unstoppable train of good fortune, will it deliver the second part?

*Wiggins is now being discussed as a trade option to bring Kevin Love to Cleveland, so stay tuned.