Once again sports fans around the world are talking about Cleveland, And it is not for winning a championship. Cleveland is being talked about because of their ability to lead a team to the promised land, or their inability. Depends on your perspective. 1964 was the last time any pro team in C-town was the best at anything.
Since then we as a region have endured the Cuyahoga River going up in flames, Cavaliers owner Ted Stepien removed as owner by the NBA, the Browns being moved to Baltimore by owner Art Modell, LeBron leaving, the owner’s Letter, and now we have a coach, the winningest coach in the Eastern Division of the NBA, fired mid-season by the owner.
Rick Carlisle, Head Coach of the Dallas Mavericks, said about the firing, I’m embarrassed for our league that something like this could happen.
I confess I am a David Blatt fan. Can 7 million people really be wrong? He was not perfect but he did coach what ended up being a rag tag team to within 2 games of an NBA Championship. This year his team lost 2 games in the last 30 days. I say he was 10% responsible and the Cavs were 90% responsible. By Cavs I include players, staff and owner.
So what happen and why? An oversimplification but then this isn’t brain surgery.
Whether or not you like sports there are leadership lessons to be learned. A coach by any other name is the leader or supposed to be the leader of the team.
1. Audience decides your value not you. From the beginning Blatt, the team and the whole NBA had different perspectives on his experience. He thought he was not a rookie coach and the players and league consistently referred to him as a rookie coach. After their first win when the team wanted to celebrate his first professional win, it opened a sore that never heeled.
2. Have to manage effectively down the chart. It appears from our outside view that Blatt never managed his players with the authority that may have been necessary. We were not privy to daily practice. What we do know is that each leader has to find a sweet spot between authority and approachable.
3. Have to manage effectively above you. Some leaders manage well below them but not above them. A reminder that record alone won’t keep a CEO his/her job.
4. Be your authentic you. His reputation from Russia, Europe and Israel was of a tough disciplinarian. And then he ran into the buzz saw of LeBron. You have to be authentic to who you are. Good probability you will be fired so you need to lead as your authentic you.
5. At the end be gracious. Blatt released one statement and it was gracious. You never know when you will meet someone again, whether that someone is a player, staff or owner.
6. Doing well is the best revenge. The day after the firing Blatt was shopping in C-town. Good for him. The bad news is that most sane teams won’t fire a coach in mid-season so he will have to wait 6 months for another job offer.
7. Identify empty words. The new head coach suggested that Blatt come back and coach in the ALL-STAR game. Nice try. It is an NBA decision over which a coach has no say. LeBron said he did not have a part in the firing. Nice try. He ignored, dissed and outed Blatt in public. NOW he has no part.
The General Manager told the team at their emergency meeting following Blatt’s departure.
“You don’t have to like it. But you will respect it.”
Would have been nice if he would have said that about Blatt once in the last 12 months.