About Me

NBA Playoffs and The Challenges of Young (& New) Leaders

I’ve loved watching the NBA Playoffs this season. Since the San Antonio Spurs are old and out of it, I don’t really have a dog in this fight, but it’s been fun to watch. In particular, watching the Mavs defeat the Thunder and the Heat beat Chicago has been constructive  for leadership learnings and the challenges young leaders face.

In both conference finals, the more experienced, veteran team won. Obviously, in the world of sports, there gets to be a moment when an athlete or team becomes too old, but that isn’t the case with Dirk’s Mavericks and LeBron’s Heat. They are in – or very close to – their prime, while the teams they beat are simply, well, too young.

Over the last 30 years, no team has won the NBA Championship with a avergage age under 26. The average age of the Oklahoma City Thunder? 23. The average age of the Chicago Bulls is 27.2, but their star, Derrick Rose, is 23. These team’s leaders are too young to win! Though both teams have great futures, we saw in the playoffs the challenges all young leaders face, regardless of their field of play.

Here’s how young leaders struggle:
  1. Wanting to Be Liked! Young (and new) leaders want to be liked by their collegues. They don’t know where the boundaries are yet, and even when they’re far more talented, it takes a while to become as assertive as you need to be in order to lead with success. Through the playoffs, we didn’t say Derrick Rose or Kevin Durant get in the face of their teammates. When the series was on the line against the Mavs, in the closing seconds, Durant didn’t have the ball! Could you imagine Jordan, Kareem, or Bird doing that? No! They set the expectations for thier team. If you didn’t meet the expectations, you paid the consequences. Leaders have to hold the team accountable for the goal, which means you won’t always be liked. And yes, sometimes this means asking the owner and/or GM to get rid of a player, who though talented, doesn’t show up in shape to play (think Kobe and Shaq).
  2. Seeking Help. One of the pitfalls of being talented is the illusion that you can do it alone. What the playoffs revealed is that no one besides Durant and Rose could be counted on when the game was on the line. Say what you will about Lebron, but he knew he couldn’t get past the Celtics on his own. He knew he needed help! Young and new leaders are slow to ask for help. If you feel that you’re sputtering as a leader, look around at your help. Is it the right help? If not, you might consider taking your talents to South Beach or going out and getting what you need.
  3. Seizing Opportunity. Both Dirk and Lebron have been to the NBA Finals before and come up short. You can see it in the urgency with which they are playing. Young leaders think that they have more time than they actually do; that they’ll make it back. Not true! The opportunity you’re looking at right now may never come around again. Ask Dan Marino about that. When you get an opportunity, you gotta grab it.
  4. Demanding the Ball. As I mentioned above, in the closing seconds of Game 5, Kevin Durant, didn’t have the ball. That’s inexcusable! Real leaders want the ball; they accept the responsibility and shoulder the load. Weak leaders blame others. This doesn’t mean that you distrust your teammates, it means that when it’s on the line, you have confidence that God has shaped you for this moment, for this stage and you know you can deliver. In games 4 and 5, Dirk was quiet for much of the game, but in the closing moments, he demanded the ball and delivered.
New and young leaders are perhaps in one of the best positions they’ll ever be. If that’s you, use it, develop it, and grow from it. Your team is counting on you!
  • bms

    Helpful words for this young guy who’s trying to figure out what it means to be a leader. Thanks!

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