On Leadership: Take Note & Stay Tuned

This may not end well.

But the NBA deserves a ton of credit. Basketball returned on Thursday, and there’s much we can learn from this entire experience and experiment.

People first: On March 11th, the NBA suspended their season. The league made the decision just moments after one of its players, Rudy Gobert, tested positive for COVID-19. They were the first American pro sports league to do so. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and its leaders made a decision to put their people first, prior to any government mandates. The sudden decision communicated that the physical health of the players, coaches, and staff is more important than the health of their bottom line.

Consult with others: The NBA has had to work closely with government officials, health experts, owners and management, resort executives, their own players, and many others – including barbers! Nearly everything is unprecedented and it’s also a fluid situation. Nothing has been clear and no one knows exactly how things will go these next few weeks and months. This is why communication and gaining insight from others is key. One of my favorites — Proverbs 15:22 “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”

Explore Possibilities: There were a number of scenarios thrown around since suspension. I heard Las Vegas, regional sites, a midwestern university town, and other suggestions. There was talk regarding the number of teams, games, and format of the playoffs. Ultimately, the NBA agreed to create a “bubble” at Disney World in Orlando involving 22 teams (16 will make the playoffs). Teams arrived a few weeks ago. Everyone quarantined. Practices and scrimmages began. Now games are underway. The Playoffs will finish in October…It’s easy to stop with the question, “Can I?” Personally, that leads me to think about all of the reasons why something won’t work. But when I change the question to, “How Can I?” it opens the door of possibility. Try it out!

Give your people a voice: There was concern amongst some NBA players that their impact on current social justice issues would be minimized upon returning to play. The talk would no longer be about racism and solutions but entirely on the games being played. The NBA has consistently given its individual players a platform to express their beliefs. Regardless if you agree or not with everyone’s personal beliefs and opinions, the league has benefited from promoting its individuals versus trying to quiet them. For any leader, it’s worth considering how to empower your people.

It’s okay to be vulnerable:“But again, this virus has humbled many, so I am not going to express any higher level of confidence than we are following the protocols, and we hope it works as we designed it.” These were Silver’s remarks after months of pouring over data, consulting professionals, implementing safety controls, and finally welcoming teams to the bubble. It’s okay to admit something may not work. In fact, it’s better to be truthful throughout.

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s this: Life is unpredictable and we’re not in complete control. As leaders, we must put people first, seek counsel, think creatively, empower others, and be solution-oriented. 

There’s no perfect answer. But the NBA has done all it could to protect its people, deliver a great product, and provide an example of leadership amidst challenging and uncertain times.

Take note and stay tuned.

NBA Comissioner Adam Silver

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