Sports are a microcosm of life. We can watch what happens in a game and see a number of ways that applies to what we see on a daily basis. I firmly believe each major sport can show us some specific things about leadership. The NFL teaches us how important culture is in an organization for success. MLB teaches us about chemistry within a team and what separates good teams from great ones. The NBA gives us the perspective of personality and its impact on leadership. In no other sport do superstars and individual players carry as much weight and importance as they do in the NBA.
That became obvious this morning when the Houston Rockets dismissed legendary player Kevin McHale as their coach, just 11 games into the season. In the NBA, players have all the weight. That's why superstar players get consulted before the draft, coaches are little more than babysitters (see Kobe vs Shaq feud in LA), and owners almost always side with the player when there is a locker room divided. Entire organizations revolve around the personality of a few people, and that ripple effect has the potential to be incredibly healthy and successful (Tim Duncan & Spurs, Steph Curry & Warriors, or LeBron & Heat/Cavs), or destructive and dysfunctional (Carmelo & Nuggets/Knicks, Kobe & Lakers, or the entire Washington Wizards from 2002-2011).
Personality matters in leadership for 3 reasons.
1. Personality shapes who belongs in the organization - An organization that is centered around a "me-first" personality type will do one of two things: it will discourage and ultimately frustrate "team-first" leaders who will leave to escape the circus, and it will handicap an organization based on the whims of the dominant personality. The team can never move beyond the limitations and challenges because there has been an empowering of a dysfunctional leader. Whether that's a pastor who has to be the center of attention or a small group leader who only allows a certain class of people in, "me-first" mindsets lead to a downward cycle. On the other hand, a "team-first" leader who surrounds themselves with other "team-first" leaders can have a lasting impact because the organization is built by people who care more about collective success than individual glory.
2. Personality is contagious - Last year in the NBA, two players were traded from a team with a "me-first" player (Carmelo) to a team with a "team-first" player (LeBron). Those players when traded away had a transformed season of productivity, which led to a Finals appearance. The difference? The personality of the team was contagious. When a team buys into the personality of the key leader that is focused on the success of others, that attitude spreads like a cold in a preschool--quickly. That's why negative people need to be kept away from key positions of leadership, because the personality and attitude can infect an entire organization.
3. Personality is something you can't coach - I firmly believe a lot about leadership and effectively advancing a ministry or organization can be taught, that it's rooted in the development of some specific skills and qualities (you can read Dream Teams for more about that). But what can't be taught is how a person is wired and how they perceive and discern what is around them. For that, it has to come from within. A leader has to make the commitment at the heart level to be a positive, team-first personality. Ministries that emphasize this in their hiring, evaluation, and deployment processes are ministries that create a climate where the momentum multiplies the attitude of collective success and accomplishment.
What would you add to the idea of personality and leadership? Especially as you see it in ministry contexts?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.