Think back to the days when you were in grade school. Remember the kid in class who somehow, someway managed to get more praise from your teacher than he or she deserved? Sure, the kid was a model citizen, but he got singled out for an extra helping of gush from Miss Crabtree (or whatever her name was), at every opportunity, and seemed to make it almost impossible for everybody else to measure up.
So…what happened? Did you work twice as hard to be polite, be respectful, and be responsible for your homework? Most of us probably did…but only for a while. When it became evident that there was unabashed favoritism and that you were on an un-level playing field, it really sucked the enthusiasm out of you, didn’t it? Made you stop caring? Stop trying? Stop respecting?
Maybe in your case, it was a Girl Scout leader, or a baseball coach or some other authority figure. Regardless, you began to recognize that life wasn’t fair, and with that experience, you learned something about leadership… that one of the absolutely fastest ways to lose people, both emotionally as well as physically (as in, they leave your organization for a new job), is to have different sets of rules that you apply to the same group of people. I’ll give you an example.
The Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association (aka LeBron’s team) fired their head coach David Blatt a couple of weeks ago. This is the same Coach Blatt that guided his teams to multiple championships in European leagues, earned six different “Coach of the Year” honors, and then, in his first season as an NBA head coach, steered the injury-plagued Cavaliers into the 2015 NBA Finals, only to lose to the favored Golden State Warriors.
Blatt’s record this season when he was canned? A not-too-shabby 30-11.
So…why did Coach Blatt fall flatt in Cleveland? Probably a host of reasons. One reason could be that he was hired to coach a team of young players, players who would be open-minded about learning the professional game from an accomplished coach and mentor. But shortly after Blatt was hired, LeBron James signed with Cleveland, and the team added a number or other veteran players who may not have been as eager to cooperate with a coach who had never played in the NBA (or coached in the world’s premier basketball league).
Another reason could be that there were a number of mistakes made last season…like when Coach Blatt tried to call timeout late in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference playoffs against the Chicago Bulls. The problem is that the Cavaliers didn’t have any timeouts left. It’s not uncommon for a player to make that mistake, but it becomes much more cringe-worthy when the head coach does it.
But, if I had to place a bet on the one thing that probably led to Coach Blatt’s departure, it would be that he didn’t treat everyone the same. As reported in an NBA.com interview with former Cavaliers player Brendan Heywood, Coach Blatt would review game film with the team, and point out the mistakes that were made by each player. Well, almost each player. According to Heywood, Coach Blatt would kind of just skip over the mistakes made by LeBron, arguably the best player on the planet and the one person on the team that Cavaliers’ management needs to keep happy. So, while every other player, was spotlighted for a mental error, a lapse in judgment, a blown assignment or a lack of hustle, LeBron skated. Coach Blatt didn’t hold him accountable in front of the team.
To be fair, Coach Blatt didn’t sign up for that. Again, his expectation was that he would be teaching young NBA players, instilling fundamentals, building a foundation for a basketball team. Coaching LeBron James was not in the job description. And with no NBA playing experience or NBA coaching experience, it would be naïve to think that Coach Blatt was prepared for the challenges that accompanied daily life with King James…challenges like James changing the play that the head coach had just called in the huddle during a timeout.
Coaching NBA superstars isn’t for the feint of heart. But whether you’re teaching kids or building a team of professional athletes, if your treatment of individuals isn’t fair and consistent, they won’t respect you. And if they won’t respect you, they won’t follow you.
I learned that from Miss Crabtree.