Why Lebron James is Not a Leader & The Lessons For Every Manager


In the sports world, just because you are the best player on the planet does not mean you are a leader. In the workplace, just because you are a top performer also does not mean you are a leader. Leadership is not about talent, intelligence, salary, power or authority. Authentic leadership is about being passionate, caring, visionary, trustworthy, adaptable and having a servant mentality.

In the 13th Annual NBA General Manager Survey, conducted by NBA.com, thirty National Basketball Association team general managers answered fifty-six questions related to the best teams, players, coaches, and many other player and team related attributes. One of the questions asked was "which player is the best leader." While Lebron James was voted number one frequently in other questions related to skill, talent and ability, he only received 14% of the votes on leadership. In the previous two surveys, (2012, 2013), he received zero votes, and was barley mentioned as a leader.

Here are some fundamental reasons why Lebron is not considered a leader in his field:

  • Lebron does not provide frequent feedback to teammates to either help or motivate them.
  • Lebron has been known to shy away from crunch time moments or not produce big plays when his team needs him most.
  • Lebron is frequently playful and not known for having that serious mental edge (Like Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant)
  • He tends to bite his nails, revealing his anxiety and nervousness.


Recently, Lebron added to his reputation of lackluster leadership by delivering feedback to a teammate, Cleveland Cavaliers center, Kevin Love using twitter as his platform. After the Cavaliers lost to the Indiana Pacers, Lebron tweeted the following:



The tweet appeared to target teammate Love, and his quote to the media earlier in the season when Love stated he was trying “not to fit in so much” and that his teammates encouraged him to “fit out and just be myself.” Lebron initially admitted to the associated press that he was talking about Love. He told a small group of reporters, “It’s not a coincidence, man.” Of course the media will take whatever Lebron says and run with it to make headlines, which caused Lebron to later reprimand the press (via Twitter again) about his published comments, even though he seemed to have led the press to believe that Love was the main target of his twitter criticism.

3 things Lebron James and anyone can do to become an authentic leader:

1. Be Helpful not Hurtful: Some managers believe you should criticize in private and praise in public. From my experience as a consultant, it truly depends on the person and the context of your criticism. When you have to deliver feedback to a teammate, ask yourself these questions: is what I am about to say helpful or hurtful? Am I focused on facts or my feelings? Am I focused on the person or the problem? You will know when you are delivering helpful feedback when you are focused on facts and the fundamental problem.

2. Speak Like a Leader: Authentic leaders don't deliver criticism via email, phone and especially not through social media. They have the courage to have a one-on-one discussion with their teammate so the message is clear and not taken out of context. Every communicated message consists of words, tone and body language. When you deliver a message via email or social media, people can only see your words and have to interpret your tone and body language and this can unintentionally create even more conflict.

3. Build Trust: Have your teammates back. Don't give the media, other departments or managers any amount of ammunition to fuel the fire of frustration between you and a teammate. Also, don't send mixed messages. If you believe a teammate is behaving outside of the team values essential to the success of the team, its everyone's responsibility to hold that person accountable since no one is bigger than the team. Understand that trust is like a checking account. Everyday you are either depositing trust into the hearts and minds of your teammates, or you are withdrawing trust, and unfortunately so many people in today's organizations have insufficient funds


a note about the Author of this good article:

James Bird Guess was homeless after high school and built a quarter-million-dollar business from the trunk of his car. James now serves as CEO of the International Success Academy, a management consulting firm that provides advisory services to executive teams on change management, strategic leadership, and employee engagement strategies, as well as customizing and facilitating on-site leadership training, and high-energy team building experiences. He is a top management consultant, keynote speaker, and subject-matter expert on employee engagement, culture change, talent retention, and maximizing organizational performance. James is also the best-selling author of Lead Like Water: Many Can Manage, Few Can Lead.