Thursday, June 21, 2018

Life’s Work: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. How Does this Translate to a Healthcare Practice?


This was an interesting piece to come across in the venerable Harvard Business Review, a magazine that caters to a business audience. Profiling a sports star is a bit out of the box, but the lessons offered are useful in a number of ways for business leaders. Some of Abdul-Jabbar’s insights apply to managers and “captains of industry” in the C-suite, but many of them apply to workers at any level.

One of the most celebrated basketball stars in history failed in his attempts to become a head coach in the NBA after he retired from playing. But he has successfully changed course and become a successful writer, historian, and filmmaker, specializing in telling the stories of unsung heroes in African-American history. The Harvard Business Review interviewed him about his philosophies and practices that have produced success on and off the basketball court. His life lessons include the following:
  • To really excel, it takes both talent and hard work, but a good work ethic trumps natural talent every time. A talented ball player won’t succeed unless he or she practices long and hard.
  • Abdul-Jabbar had a reputation in the NBA as a focused, but not very personable, player, and it followed him when he was trying to break into coaching. He notes that as he has matured, he has learned to be more sociable and outgoing.
  • He found success as a team captain as a leader by example. He stayed in shape and constantly worked on his fundamentals.
  • He earned a right to be heard by his managers and coaches by approaching them with due respect. They would then listen to his suggestions and criticisms.
  • He is often contrasted with his effervescent teammate Magic Johnson. Abdul-Jabbar learned to enjoy the moment from Johnson, and Johnson learned from Abdul-Jabbar to temper his reaction to each victory (or loss) by focusing on the long haul, a season of 80-plus games.
  • Abdul-Jabbar doesn’t see his career as a writer as a “transition,” but more as leveraging something he has always enjoyed. He was good at English and writing, and in recent years he has cashed in on it on the best-seller lists.

These concepts can prove helpful in managing people and in the environment of any business, including a healthcare practice. Abdul-Jabbar's philosophy that hard work trumps talent every time applies to hiring processes, personal self-discipline, and leading a work team. You may hire a very skilled or knowledgeable staff member, but if he or she doesn’t have a strong work ethic, you’ll be disappointed.

As he talked about himself, Abdul-Jabbar recognized his tight focus and imperfect social skills were both assets and liabilities. His focus helped him lead others by example when he might otherwise not have been an effective encourager. And he found that his personality worked well when teamed with someone very different—he and Johnson balanced each other out in some ways.

If your style is focus and hard work, it provides an example for your staff. If you are more open and sociable, you might be more encouraging and helpful. Just make sure you have some focused workers around, too. As one of the all-time great NBA players, Abdul-Jabbar was never quite able to become a head coach as he had hoped. A great player doesn’t necessarily translate into a great coach. By the same token, a great worker on your staff might not make a good candidate for a supervisory or management position. Keep that in mind when you think you might want to promote one of your star performers.