Lessons in Leadership from Mark Cuban

Culture defines who you are and, to an extent, how you do.  Culture is what keeps people from leaving your organization when times are tough.  Culture is a collective characteristic.  A team without a culture is, at best, no more than the sum of its parts; at worst, it is something less.

As I’ve said before and will say again, I’m a sports fan.  In fact, I’m probably somewhere on the spectrum between a sports fan and a sports nut.  As part of my sports reading, I regularly check out The Point Forward, where basketball is covered by Sports Illustrated.

A recent article covers an extensive blog post from Dallas Mavericks‘ owner (and entrepreneur, and TV personality, etc.) Mark Cuban¹.

I find this type of personal commentary insightful, and enjoy that it brings me a little closer to understanding the sophisticated inner workings of the business of sport.  Posts like this also give an idea of how the author thinks, and shed a revealing light on some of the writer’s broader philosophies.

Out of the 3000+ words, there were three sections that stood out to me as holding tangible, transferable lessons for any leader, in any walk of life:

1. Defining a culture is important

In Cuban’s words, “Culture is very important to the Mavs.  Your best player has to be a fit for what you want the culture of the team to be. He has to be someone who leads by example. Someone who sets the tone in the locker room and on the court.  It isn’t about who talks the most or the loudest. It is about the demeanor and attitude he brings.  It is amazing how when the culture is strong, the chemistry is strong.”

Culture defines who you are and, to an extent, how you do.  Culture is what keeps people from leaving your organization when times are tough.  Culture is a collective characteristic.  A team without a culture is, at best, no more than the sum of its parts; at worst, it is something less.  Culture can take a long time to cultivate, but can be lost in an instant.

Sports and life are littered with examples of teams and organizations that are strong “on paper” that in practice struggle to deliver.  In many cases, a lack of a defined culture or some force disrupting the culture, is the culprit.

2. The leader must embody the culture

Again, in Cuban’s words (this time referring specifically to the Mavericks’ leader Dirk Nowitzki), “Dirk sets the tone for our team.  He works as hard, if not harder than anyone.  He helps our younger players understand what he expects and what they need to do to excel. On the court he is selfless.  He would rather not have to score a point if we would win the game any way.  He would rather pass the ball and let anyone else score than be forced to take the shot. Until its the time of the game where we need a point. Then he is ready to step up as often as we need it. But he knows, that his impact on a game is far more important than any averages or what appears in the box score. That mindset. That selflessness. His work ethic is something I want to be in place long after he has retired.”

In a past post I talked about the importance of setting the right example and quoted Albert Einstein (“Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only means.”) and in another I quoted Mahatma Gandhi (“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”), and Cuban touches on similar themes in the quote above.  Who will listen to a leader who doesn’t heed his or her own advice?  Who wants to follow a hypocrite?  Without the right leader in place, one who is the very embodiment of the desired cultural values, the culture will disappear and the team will collapse.

3. You must define your own strategy

Cuban puts it like this: “What I do know, at least what I think i have learned from my experiences in business is that when there is a rush for everyone to do the same thing, it becomes more difficult to do . Not easier. Harder.  It also means that as other teams follow their lead, it creates opportunities for those who have followed a different path.”

Both parts of that statement important.

Sports and business are filled with trendy strategies, and while early adopters (usually before the strategy becomes well-known) see benefits, those who jump on-board later usually are doing so after the market has reached equilibrium and you can no longer find value or take advantage of inefficiencies.  Sorry, but once you hear everyone talking about ETFs, you’re probably buying at the top of the market.

Second, don’t despair!  When you do discover that everyone is heading in one direction, that might indicate that opportunities are available elsewhere.  In the words of Bruce Willis‘ character in Lucky Number Slevin, “They look right…and you…go left.” ²

¹A friend saw this post as I was writing it and remarked, “Ugh, I can’t stand Mark Cuban…I hate that guy.”  I’ve never watched Shark Tank, but I think that’s the main culprit in my friend’s response (surmised from his mutterings).  Hopefully we can all agree that, personal feelings aside, Mark Cuban has had some successes in sports and business, and one doesn’t have to be a saint to be able to communicate some good lessons.

²Pro Tip: I think all business books that touch on this idea use the words “zig” and/or “zag” in the title.

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Posted in Leadership, Sports
One comment on “Lessons in Leadership from Mark Cuban
  1. Bayan Giyim says:

    I agree with this point of view “It also means that as other teams follow their lead, it creates opportunities for those who have followed a different path.””

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