Leadership Lessons from LeBron James

Hugh head shot

By Hugh D. MacPhie

If your initial reaction to the title of this article is that there must be some typo or mistake, you can be forgiven. My hunch is that a Google search of “LeBron James” and “Leadership” might not yield many results. Leadership just isn’t part of the LeBron James brand.

Or so we thought.

But let me share why my admiration-level for LeBron James went up considerably.

I was at the Raptors-Cavaliers game with my family. And before tip off, from the perch of our nosebleed seats, I decided to just watch LeBron, because I wanted to see if he was going to do his chalk-dust thing.

But I witnessed something very different instead.

Pre-game, LeBron went up to every other player on his team, and either did a cool hand-shake, fist bump, or some other personal ritual along those lines. He did it with every player  – from the starting point guard, to the guy everyone knew wasn’t going to get off the bench all game.

He then shook hands with each of his coaches – looking them in the eye respectfully.

But he wasn’t done. Reaching into the stands, he shook hands with the Cleveland staff traveling the team. He the moved along further – warmly greeting what appeared to be the TV and radio crews in from Cleveland.

Along the way, LeBron hugged the bench staffer, who was literally about half his size. And he made a point – made a point – of approaching, fist-bumping, and hugging the guy whose job it is to wipe the sweat off of the players’ chairs during the game.

Every. Single. Person.

And LeBron did it authentically. With a combination of swagger and genuine respect shown to every person he touched.

I have got to believe, that even for the people who see a lot of LeBron, that those interactions make them feel pretty special.

So the next day I was sitting with a friend who leads a very large organization, and I relayed this story.

Because as a leader, he also creates that feeling of specialness with everyone he walks past, meets, or simply acknowledges.

For leaders, human interactions go beyond the functional requirements of getting things done. Those interactions also have a symbolic element.

If you go down to the cafeteria to get lunch, and genuinely interact with people in line and behind the counter, you’re doing a lot more than just picking up some food. You’re doing something that has a profound impact on the people you “touch”. And don’t think they won’t tell their own co-workers, and their family members, and their friends, about who talked to them, smiled at them, learned their name, and appeared to genuinely listen.

This idea – making the most of otherwise mundane interactions – doesn’t just apply to CEOs or rock stars or NBA basketball players. It applies to all of us.

Over the course of his life, LeBron learned that he was pretty good at basketball, and people see him as a role model for that reason alone. He has learned to exploit – in the very best sense of the term – the positive emotional impact that he can have on people by just acknowledging them.

And that can impact his organization’s effectiveness.

Final score? Cleveland 120, Toronto 112.




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