Jerry West, NBA champion, Hall of Fame player, successful executive and literal icon of the league, shared the lessons he’s learned about leadership and success at the recent Oracle OpenWorld and SuiteConnect events this month.
West’s illustrious 14-year playing career was spent solely with the Los Angeles Lakers, taking over as coach after he retired from the game. He also served as General Manager of the Lakers, which included trading for the 13th overall pick in the 1996 NBA draft Kobe Bryant as well as signing Shaquille O’Neal as a free agent.
“After many long conversations, the greatest elation I've ever had in my life was when I heard, ‘I'm coming. I'm coming to Los Angeles,’" West said of his recruitment of O’Neal. “The fortunes of this franchise changed overnight.”
West also served as the general manager of the Memphis Grizzlies before taking on consulting roles, most recently with the LA Clippers after a similar stint with the Golden State Warriors team that has won two of the last three NBA championships. He began with some quotes and readings that had inspired his leadership style over the years. West quoted JC Penney, “Show me a stock clerk with a goal and I'll show you a man who will make history. Show me a stock clerk without a goal, and I will show you a stock clerk.” And Eleanor Roosevelt, “learn from the mistakes of others. You can't live long enough to make them all yourself."
But West also shared lessons learned and some guiding principles he arrived upon over a lengthy career in the NBA. They were:
- Life must be fun, kindness is essential, and you do need to work at both.
- Smile, laugh, and be pleasant. This may sound naïve. It's not.
- Be strong enough to say, "I don't know." When you don't know or understand something, say so. Don't guess, don't fake it. If you don't have the answer, say so. The following seven words often work best, "I don't know, but I'll find out." You won't mislead your colleagues, and people will respect your honesty and self-assurance.
- Life is too hard to be lived alone. Find time for your family. You only get one. Work at friendship. Develop a talent for friendship. Friends fill our life. They represent, perhaps, the purest choice you ever make in your life.
- Don't be color blind. People are different. Your world is, indeed, a rich, open, diverse, multicolored, multiethnic, multi-textured, multicultural experience. Declaring that all groups are the same is a deception. Believing that some ethnic groups are better than others is a moral disgrace. We aren't all the same. We shouldn't try to be. Opposites attract and they also educate.
- Help some people along the way. Find a cause you care about. Involve yourself and start early in life. Try to start a fire in someone's life who has enormous talent. And if you're a leader, you're going to make a difference in that person's life. It is hard work identifying those talented people. Do not let them quit. Make sure you set high standards and goals for them.
“And finally, I'm going to leave you with these words,” West said. “How you work with each person is a unique art. Effective leadership depends on your ability to connect and motivate people. Not on your title, position, or power, but on the trust and respect for you. To me, it's crucial for everyone's success, particularly if you're designed as a leader. People will forget what you said, and forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.“