“Everything rises and falls on leadership.” – John Maxwell

This month we are looking at Apex Leaders, the individuals who are at the top of their professions.  But what happens when you are the best team with the two Apex Leaders and those individuals do not like each other?  What happens when there is a severe lack of unity amongst your leadership team?

This was the exact problem the 3-time consecutive NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers faced in the early 2000’s.  Their transcendent superstars, alpha-males Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, were involved in one of the most dysfunctional relationships in the history of sports.  Their success proved to be unsustainable and the Shaq-Kobe Lakers eventually came to an end.

On September 3rd, 2015, Bleacher Report writer Howard Beck was interviewed on the Chad Lowe’s podcast The Lowe Post.  Beck was a beat writer of the L.A. Daily News at the time of the Shaq-Kobe Lakers.  Their conversation was fascinating.

The following are 29 Leadership Lessons From The Shaquille O’Neal – Kobe Bryan Feud.  These lessons should be a warning for any church, business, non-profit, or athletic organization.  Success is fragile and can be lost when your leadership does not protect unity.  Even the most successful teams can easily dissolve.

  1. Great Leaders Must Be Authentic – “His (Kobe) image is grown into this gunner’s mentality and that’s not really who he is.”
  2. Great Leaders Make Others Better – “He (Kobe) has always been an underrated passer…He just likes the ball too much.” – Lowe
  3. Leadership Must Value Unity And Protect It At All Costs – “At the end it was either or (someone had to go).”
  4. An Unhealthy Emotionally Person Has Problems With Many People, Not Just One Person – “Shaq was also feuding with Jerry Buss, the owner, about his contract.”
  5. Leadership Teams Must Focus On Others Rather Than Themselves – “With Shaq’s contract grandfathered in, between his super-max contract and Kobe’s max, they had little room to operate.”
  6. Smart People Must Make Hard Decisions – “Jerry Buss was being a smart businessman by saying look we want you (Shaq) here but it needs to be in this range.”
  7. Few Things Are As Worse As Entitled Leaders – “Shaq had called out Dr. Buss in the middle of game in Hawaii saying, ‘Pay me!  Pay me!'”
  8. Unhealthy Leaders Put Unnecessary Pressure On Their Organizations – “At mid-season Kobe had been running around daily saying, ‘I’m leaving.  I’m out of here.'”  This obviously put pressure on the organization.”
  9. At A Certain Point Unhealthy Leadership Teams Simply Cannot Coexist Together And Dissolve – “Shaq in the end made a trade demand.”
  10. Jealousy And Selfishness Will Destroy A Leadership Team – “He (Kobe) says (in Oct 2003.), “If I’m not on the team it is because of Shaq’s jealousy and selfishness.” – Lowe
  11. Public Dysfunction Erodes Momentum – “Kobe did not fire back publicly…Kobe was not one to come to us in the media.  Shaq’s team, the whisper campaign, was constant.  They loved taking shots at Kobe.”
  12. Private Problems Eventually Surface Publicly – “He (Kobe) called out everything (on Shaq) everyone in organization had problems with for years.”
  13. Poor Work Ethic Destroys Great Teams – “A lot of their differences, where they ultimately couldn’t get along, had so much to do with all these other things like Kobe is maniacal about game, perfecting the game, working on his game.  He’s a workaholic.  He’s as singularly focused as anyone I’ve met in any walk of life.  And Shaq is not.”
  14. Great Leaders Hold Everyone Accountable And To A Higher Standard – “Kobe’s trying to hold everyone to his standard, whether it’s Smush Parker or Shaquille O’Neal.”
  15. Unhealthy Organizations Cause Quality Leaders To Lose Passion And Become Apathetic – “I don’t care.” – Kobe on whether coach Phil Jackson would come back after his contract expired.
  16. Do Not Reward Poor Performance.  Your Top Performers Will Resent It. – “One of things he (Kobe) at that time would hold against Phil is Phil would continually insist that Shaq would be our focal point…and that drove Kobe crazy.”
  17. Great Leaders Demand Commitment From Others – “He (Kobe) respected Shaq’s talent.  He respected Shaq’s abilities.  But it hard to respect Shaq’s commitment because it often wasn’t there at critical times.”
  18. Great Leaders Demand Professionalism From Others – “Trying to squash your own impulses, your desires, your goals over and over, year after year, especially when it’s because you’re playing with someone who maybe doesn’t treat the game as seriously as you, nobody treats the game as seriously as Kobe does.”
  19. Poor Leaders Tear People Down Rather Than Build People Up – “Kobe yells at teammates a lot.” – Lowe
  20. Smart Leaders Make Long-term Investments In Top Young Talent – “We can’t keep paying Shaq $35 million and Kobe’s in his mid-20s.”
  21. Immaturity Causes Great Teams To Lose Focus – “This group has been in some ways so childish they keep tabs.” – Beck quoting Jackson
  22. Your Organization’s Top Leaders Must Lead By Example By Being The Most Coachable – “They’re the two leaders.  They have to be the most coachable.” – Beck quoting Jackson
  23. Chaos And Conflict Cause People To Act Differently Than They Normally Do – “Who these guys on the court are not who they are in real life.”
  24. Unhealthy Relationships Are High Maintenance Relationships – “Every year they (Shaq and Kobe) had to patch something up.”
  25. Unhealthy Relationships Are Full Of Drama – “Just because we have an argument this one day doesn’t mean we can’t be fine later.  For instance, I can hate on Tuesday but have lunch on Wednesday.” – Shaq to Beck
  26. Lasting Relationships Do Not Hold Grudges – “Kobe’s a grudge holder.  Kobe doesn’t forget anything.  He doesn’t forget any slight.  Shaq’s such a people person he wants to be liked including by Kobe.”
  27. Leaders Ultimately Regret Their Unhealthy Relationships – “Shaq, he doesn’t want to be remembered as the guy who tried to ostracize Kobe from day one.”
  28. Sadly, Unhealthy Relationships Result In Unnecessary Missed Opportunities – “Peak Shaq, you had never seen anything like that before.” – Lowe
  29. For Leaders To Be Successful You Need A Great Team Around You – “To win a title you need everyone.” – Lowe

As I mentioned, this was a fascinating conversation between Lowe and Beck.  There are countless lessons about why great teams unnecessarily dissolve.

For leaders, what is one thing from this list you can learn from and apply today to keep your great team together?

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