LeBron Lends Lesson on Loyalty

It’s official. LeBron James is leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat. In other breaking news, President Obama is expected to declare a state of emergency in Ohio.

The reaction within the Cleveland Cavaliers organization was one of heartbreak and betrayal. LeBron was the local kid playing for the hometown team. The prevailing sentiment was that he would remain loyal to the organization, and his community, by agreeing to return. The organization’s ace in the hole was that they were able to offer LeBron $30 million more than any other organization could offer. But despite the local ties and significantly more money to be made, he bolted for South Beach.

So why did he leave? The politically correct reason we were given was that he felt he had a better opportunity to win a championship by joining forces with his friends, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, down in Miami. In other words, “it’s not you, it’s me,” which of course is the nice way of saying, “it’s mostly you.”

The reality is that there were probably many other factors that contributed to his decision that we don’t know about and might never know about. Why do any of us ever leave one organization to join a different organization? Sometimes, we need a change of scenery. Sometimes, we want more pay. Sometimes, we have a fundamental difference in philosophy. Sometimes, we don’t get along with the boss. Sometimes, we feel taken for granted and unappreciated. Sometimes, we need a new challenge. Sometimes, a once in a lifetime opportunity just falls in our laps. Sometimes, well you get the point.

The fact of the matter is that sometimes, it’s just time. As an organization, you might do everything right but inevitably you will still lose a star employee. Sometimes, it’s out of your control. What you can control is how you handle these situations. There is nothing to be gained by burning a bridge that doesn’t need to be burnt. Who knows, perhaps you and that star employee might want to reunite one day.

That was a lesson that Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, apparently was never taught. Within an hour of LeBron’s announcement, Gilbert posted this scathing Open Letter to Fans on the Cavaliers website. This provides great insight into the type of leadership at the top of the Cavaliers organization and demonstrates why they were unable to earn LeBron’s loyalty. After all, loyalty is a two-way street and it’s similar to respect in that it must be earned, not demanded or assumed.

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  • Comments (5)
  1. Thank you for actually making some valid points and stating a position. Lately it seems many of my business peeps (leaders) have become so politically correct (I guess that’s the reason?) they take no real positions but continue providing plenty of fluff. Nice post.

    • Gary Duke
    • July 10th, 2010

    Ken,

    So insightful (no surprise).

    You so deftly survey the facts in detail, analyze all sides with perspective, and share your wisdom and unique point of view with us.

    Thank you.

  2. Ron:
    The post is visibly straight to the point. We all tell on ourselves over time. Loyalty is deeper than politics! Thanks!

  3. Right on target, Adam. The Cavaliers erred by building its brand around a person rather than focusing on more enduring values. Employees come and go, but what the organization stands for and represents is relatively long lasting. It is a lesson that should be heeded inside the sports industry and in other industries, too.

    • Bradford
    • July 12th, 2010

    Brilliant post, Adam! Absolute slam dunk (pun intended). All your “sometimes” examples are illustrative of why someone might leave an organization, but the reaction (note: REaction, not leaderly action) of the owner, Dan Gilbert, is the real story. How NOT to Lead!
    thanks for this!

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