Nerd Guru

Because technical people need good soft skills to get ahead.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Kobe Bryant and keeping it behind closed doors

Kobe Bryant's recent spat with Laker management makes a great case for why you have to keep internal issues internal for the betterment of the team as a whole. It never ceases to amaze me how professional sports teams demonstrate issues we see in work teams and this is an excellent example.

I have 4 "dotted line" reports. That's among my least favorite corporate terms, but it means that there are four people who's performance evaluations I don't have to fill out even though I can and do hand them assignments. Each is very talented and a big part of my job is making sure the programs that they are responsible for all blend together strategically.

As such, we make a lot of decisions together that effect everyone in our small group of head software nerds. Among the rules of engagement we have is that we recognize that there will be disagreements and everyone in the group is expected to challenge other members when the five of us meet. Whenever a decision is made, though, each member is expected to endorse that decision as it is communicated to others outside the group even if they disagreed with it. Inside the circle you can question anything you like, but outside of it we present a united front.

This is exactly what Kobe Bryant is experiencing with his employer this week.

The sequence of events that led to Kobe's outburst on Stephen A. Smith's radio show yesterday are complicated. The short version is that, despite winning 3 NBA titles together, Kobe and Shaquille O'Neal never got along well together. For a long time, they set their differences aside for the sake of the team they both played on but were glued together primarily by Jerry West (the general manager who brought them both to the Lakers, but who left the team in 2001) and later by Phil Jackson.

At the end of the 2004 season, the Lakers traded Shaq and signed Kobe to a long term contract. Why things happened that way depends on what parts of different stories you choose to believe. Some think that Laker owner Jerry Buss got tired of what he perceived to be Shaq's laziness and didn't want to pay him the large contract extension he sought. Others believe that Kobe could have kept Shaq in Los Angeles if he wanted to while still others think Kobe made it an unstated demand of his 2004 contract signing that Shaq be moved to another team.

Many Laker fans and members of the Los Angeles media jumped on that last part and blamed Kobe for Shaq leaving. It became worse for Kobe when, in the subsequent 3 seasons, the Lakers didn't make it out of the first round of the playoffs while Shaq's new team, the Miami Heat, made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2005 and won the NBA title in 2006. Kobe took that heat, in large part, because his organization stood behind him.

That is, until Tuesday they did.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, in an appeal to get Buss to bring West back to the Lakers, Kobe told a reporter that he might want to leave the Lakers unless West was helping to guide future player acquisition. This is instance #1 of airing grievances publicly and, even though Kobe has been frustrated by Laker attempts at surrounding him with better players, it fueled things to come.

On Tuesday, longtime Los Angeles Times columnist Mark Heisler ran a column about the Lakers off season plans that included the following:

"Nevertheless, as a Lakers insider notes, it was Bryant's insistence on getting away from Shaquille O'Neal that got them in this mess."

Even though the source inside the Lakers organization isn't named, it was the first time that someone directly associated with the team (not the media, not the fans) fingered Kobe as the reason they traded Shaq, which may or may not be true depending upon who you believe. Regardless, it's instance #2. It was one thing when it was fans and media blaming him, but something else entirely when it was his own team. That prompted Kobe's fiery comments on Wednesday that now has sports talk shows around the country buzzing.

While it is hard to feel bad for a man who grossed close to $20 million last year, I can't help but feel a little bit for Kobe (and I'm a Shaq fan). When I get in a dispute with my boss, never gets mentioned on SportsCenter or on the pages of the LA Times. Still, in a way that comes with the territory of being a pro athlete.

For us, though, it provides a great example of how NOT to conduct yourself as a member of a team. Think carefully through the ramifications before voicing your displeasure with your immediate group outside of it. Kobe did this first, some "Laker insider" did it second and now both parties could be looking a bit better in the eyes of everybody today.

While there may be valid reasons for taking your complaints outside, think about Kobe and the Lakers before you do it. There may be a bigger price to pay than you think.


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posted by Pete Johnson @ 11:43 AM   1 comments


At 12:38 PM, Blogger Pete Johnson said...

Don't you hate it when you realized you misspelled a word in your article title and can't catch it before Feedburner finds it and sends it out for the world to see your idiocy? Me too. Here's the new post with the correct spelling of "Kobe"


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