The Honest Truth from David Stern

David Stern’s willingness to coach everyone hard set an example for the global organization he was building.

Follow your dreams and make the most of every experience. — David Stern

The sports world lost an icon last week when former NBA Commissioner David Stern passed away at the age of 77. Under Stern’s leadership, the NBA transformed in every way possible. Players’ salaries increased, the value of franchises went through the roof, and fans fell back in love with the sport filling the arenas. Players, owners, and fans all benefited from Stern’s relentless approach to rebrand the league. Stern’s drive to make the league successful was legendary. He would work long hours and pay attention to every single detail while never assuming anything. However, those closest to him say his greatest strength was his brutal honesty towards everyone, including owners, players, general managers, and interns. David Stern made his feelings known to all. Never biting his tongue based on the company he was keeping. He would let Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban hear his wrath as often as he might yell at a marketing intern for having too many of the wrong looking basketballs in stores for sale. Stern’s ability to not discriminate his honest feelings made him accomplish so much.  

How often have you watched a coach and leader not confront the best member on the team? How often have you seen all the lower level players and employees feel the heat — while the more talented and experienced members make the same mistakes without a word said? Our ability to confront sets and maintains the culture. If we allow double standards to inch their way into our environment, our positive culture will slowly decay, turning into a bad one. We cannot fear confrontation. We cannot fear to coach the best players. Most of all, we must educate everyone to understand each member of the organization will be held accountable and coached hard.

David Stern’s willingness to coach everyone hard set an example for the global organization he was building. His desire to speak the hard truth to all allowed others to do the same. There is a tendency of young coaches and leaders to not “ruffle feathers” and to be intoxicated with power in their new role. It’s hard to go from a lower-level employee to being in charge without getting harassed as “getting too big for their britches.” Regardless of the role, you must, as a new or older leader, explain that your desire to coach everyone is not a power grab, but rather a culture grab. The culture requires everyone to accept coaching. Everyone must be willing to take confrontation in the right manner. Therefore the minute you don’t coach everyone the same, the culture starts to fall apart. 

If your chasing to become the best, then do as Stern did and be honest with all regardless of status. David Stern leaves behind a remarkable legacy. But the best gift of all will be if we adopt his willingness to speak our mind to all we coach and lead!

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