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Leadership lessons learned from the NBA


Leadership lessons learned from the NBA

NBA All-Star James Worthy talks about his recent partnership with business collaboration franchise M3Linked, and the key tenets of being a powerful leader

KM: What led you to partnering with M3Linked and becoming a member of the franchise’s Los Angeles community?

JW: One of the reasons that I was interested in M3Linked Los Angeles is that as a retired athlete, you’re always looking for the next team. The thing that drew me to this was the ability to connect with like-minded people and build a team where you had teammates, a coach or mentor, and lots of resources.

Throughout my career, I’ve always had a lawyer or business manager – I didn’t have the time to be totally involved. I felt like I hadn’t maximized my business potential. M3Linked was something that made me feel like I was on a team, with people I could collaborate with.

KM: Following your successful career with the Lakers in the NBA, you’re now an analyst and commentator for Spectrum SportsNet; not dissimilar from how the best franchisors were previously business owners or employees. Do you think acquiring that sense of hands-on empathy is important?

JW: Absolutely. Everybody wants to be successful and bask in their success and money, but you have to understand your role within a team and not try to stand alone. Everybody brings something to the table.

“You’re supposed to be a team; you don’t need five Michael Jordans on one team”

If you’re the most talented person at a company then you’ll likely get a nice salary or more perks, but it’s also your job to look around and bring those up that may not be as successful, or maybe those who haven’t reached their potential.

You’re supposed to be a team; you don’t need five Michael Jordans on one team. You don’t need five Lebrons – imagine how many basketballs you’d need!

You need a passer; somebody who understands exactly where the ball needs to go in order to make a big bucket – or a great deal. If you’re an accountant, for example, you need to put the numbers together so that you can usher that to the front office, and together, make the best deal for your company.

It’s all about what your role is in the team. The main goal of everything is winning the championship, or being the number one company. Your number one goal is to maximize every inch of talent out of the company that you have.

You can surround yourself with talented people, but they may not always have the cohesiveness and togetherness that makes the best teams work.

KM: Beyond empathy, what do you see as an important skill in today’s leaders?

JW: Knowing the content within your team. You can’t get water out of a rock, so don’t even try; you have to know the personalities on your team and know how to communicate with each and every person. Some may be a little different.

I played for some great coaches; in college, it was coach Dean Smith, who was at one time one of the best coaches in college basketball. He had a philosophy that everyone was the same; whether you were Michael Jordan, James Worthy, or the towel boy. Everybody had a voice and something to contribute.

Pat Riley was a little bit different. He understood personalities and knew how to push people to the edge, and he also knew when to pull back. You have to be a good listener and be able to have good rapport, and blunt communication. You have to develop a good atmosphere in the workplace, where your ears are open to listen, and you’re able to command.

KM: As well as your basketball and commentator career, you’re also the founder of the James Worthy Foundation. Do you think giving back is something that everybody in a leadership position should strive for?

JW: Absolutely. We started the James Worthy Foundation in my home state of North Carolina, and we’re currently revitalizing it – you’ll see updates on this moving forward.

The purpose of the James Worthy Foundation is that I’ve always believed that with a successful business, once you’ve got a platform and people are listening to you, you need to give back. I have a lot of people in my life that have contributed to my success: school teachers, and people in my community, for example.

I was one of those struggling kids and if it wasn’t for certain entities, then I wouldn’t have made it. The reason you are given success is so that you can reach back and give to somebody who needs it.

By doing that with the James Worthy Foundation, we’ve been able to help a lot of veterans who were being reoriented back into the community. I currently give scholarships in my mother’s name; my mom was always a big community person. I’ve essentially copied what a lot of great companies do, but on a smaller scale.

“The reason you are given success is so that you can reach back and give to somebody who needs it”

KM: What would be your go-to piece of advice for business leaders in 2022?

JW: Recognize that change happens. You may have a product or concept that you feel works, but understand that things change around you and you may need to take a timeout. Taking a timeout is a good thing to do, to take a survey of where you are. Understand how things change around you, and whether you need to deviate, revamp, or reboot to keep up with your mission.

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