8 things startups can learn from LeBron James

This isn’t just for founders.

1. Better yourself so you can better your team

You may not even have a team yet, perfect, then you have even more time to better yourself for when you do. LeBron James didn’t have much of a team when he entered the league in 2003 so he focused on his own game and as a result we can see (from today’s LeBron James) it has helped him to help his team and get the best out of them.

Yes, a lot of this has come from experience of being in the league but it also boils down to persistence, hard-work and continuing to grow so you’re ready for any challenge.

2. Make sure you have a good team. A really good one.

In Ohio, the smell of the smoke from burning LeBron jerseys has now been replaced by champagne stenches, but if we rewind to the summer before the 2010/11 season, Cleveland’s number 23 was public enemy number 1.

LBJ had been playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers for 7 years and made the finals once (where they were swept by the Spurs). He needed to some help if he was going to go all the way.

He decided to take his talents to the Miami Heat where a ‘Big 3’ was formed with All Star teammates; Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Just like all great teams, it took a little time to become a solidified unit and as a result, they couldn’t make it past a tough Dallas team in the finals to bring the ‘ship to Miami. For the next two seasons though, LeBron and the Miami Heat won back-to-back NBA championships.

Evidently, the two stars that LeBron joined made a big difference and gave the team the edge to succeed. Assembling a dream team at your startup will help you, even if it doesn’t click straight away.

3. Learn from the best.

Startups constantly learn and adapt in order to move forward in the right direction. Oh look! LeBron James did the same. One example stands out from the rest and it’s dating back to post 2010/11 season when LeBron spent the offseason working on his post-game with Hall Of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon.

It was after the Miami Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the finals. For his bold move to the Heat, LeBron was NBA’s villain in the eyes of many fans. With the media fuelling this new persona and the tremendous pressure on the Miami Heat to win the championship, LeBron knew he had to do everything it took to make sure it happened. Soon.

He looked at what he thought was his weakness, found a genius in that particular area and went to work. Forthwith, the learning turned to executing in the following season, which resulted in Miami matching their best start to a season in franchise history. Oh and… They won the championship that season too.

As a startup company or even as an individual at said startup, you need to be constantly learning so, why not learn from the best? Find the best and make them your personal mentor by studying what they’ve said, written and done. All of this knowledge will help you adapt to the ever-changing market and help you make more effective decisions.

4. Realise when it’s time for change

It can be hard to embrace change, but startups need the ability to draw up smart plays in 20 second timeouts, crossover to change direction and most importantly; shoot their shot. Before I get carried away with basketball wordplay, let’s get back to the professor in this case.

The season after winning back to back, the Miami Heat lost in the finals and LeBron decided it was time to go back home. Now he knew what it took to get his hands on the Larry O’brien Trophy, he knew, in order to bring Cleveland their very first NBA championship, he was going to need a damn good team.

He managed to assemble a ‘Big 3’ at the Cavaliers and led them to the finals in his first season back but couldn’t finish the job against the 2014/15 Golden State Warriors. But hey, same thing happened in Miami in his first year and whether it’s basketball teams or startup teams, you can’t always execute exactly how you want to. The main thing is that you jump straight back on the court (or desk-chair) and execute better next time.

5. Distribute & contribute

To really flourish as a team you need to look at yourself first and identify where you can distribute but also where you can contribute.

The season after their loss to the Warriors, LeBron identified the changes that needed to be made to his own game but also, as the season went on, found ways of making his teammates better. Everybody needed to excel in their roles if they were going to beat a record-breaking Warriors team, just like everybody in your startup team needs to excel to reach those huge targets.

By making the team around you better, you’re ensuring a higher chance of success, whether you’re the leader or the intern designer. (Yes, Kyrie Irving is the intern designer; he makes things look pretty and executes pixel-perfect final touches under high-pressure, all for just $17,638,063 per year…).

6. Work hard & stay focused

There is a reason why LeBron says what he says (at 3:44) in this awesome Nike Basketball advertisement from 2015.

If you watch the whole LeBron segment and compare it to the other players starring in the advert, you’ll notice that he’s recognised for being focused and doesn’t let anything/anyone distract him from his goal or mindset. The end of the segment shows him reaping the benefits of this focused mindset as he dominates on the court and leads his team to a win.

Pro tip: Eating spirulina cake and playing NBA 2K games also does wonders for you at your startup. (Don’t quote me in your disciplinary meeting).

7. Trust your team

Decision making is key, whether you’re in the NBA or at a startup. Sure, NBA players usually have to make decisions in a split second but it’s decision making none-the-less.

When LeBron James has had trust in his teammates, great things have happened. There are multiple examples where he has passed to a more efficient shooter rather than taking the shot himself or driving to the basket. This may be an obvious decision, but there are players (love you Russell Westbrook) in the league that take way too many shots and subsequently hurt their team’s chances of winning (emphasis on the word ‘team’).

When it comes to startups, trust your team with the ball. Once you start to trust you’ll see more efficient results. Work together to get the best possible outcome and don’t play hero-ball because there is only so much you can do by yourself.

8. Don’t give up

You’re working. You stop suddenly and start to reflect. You realise that the task at hand is huge and you really don’t know if you’re going about it the right way. You think about how else you could do it. You can’t find any answers and you know the pressure you have put on yourself is now immense.

Sounds to me like you’re down 3–1 in a NBA finals series against a record-breaking team that requires one more win to become champions.

If you don’t know how this story ends, I’ll tell you. You stopped reflecting and started working. You’re the best in the world at what you do, nobody can stop you. You believe in the team around you and whether you think it’s the right call or not, you’re going to give it your all anyway because when you give it your all, great things happen. Incredible things. Things that make particular records worthless. Once-in-a-life-time things.


Thanks for reading. Hit me up on twitter @hearnotlisten and follow me on Medium for more content like this.