Tim McCarthy and the Business of Good

Newsletter: You Can’t Please Everyone

Aug 1, 2010 7:34:00 AM / by Tim McCarthy

The LeBron James’ debacle could have been easily avoided if he would not have tried to please everyone.  That’s a good reminder for all of us, personally and professionally to avoid the same mistake. [more]

My friends are pretty surprised about my reaction to LeBron James’ departure from Cleveland.

Of the 287 games he played in Cleveland over his seven years here, Alice and I were probably at 200 of them. To say the least, we were vested in LeBron and the Cavaliers’ success.

But, unlike most Clevelanders, I’m not bitter at all. We owned the tickets years before he got here and we’ll own them years after he’s gone.

And we enjoyed every minute of his years here. We felt honored to see close up a generational athlete, someone with size and skills that surely will place him among the game’s all-time greats.

I also enjoyed his personality. While at times over the top, he played the game with rare joy, flair and intensity. There are great shooters, great passers, great rebounders and great defenders but few can do all four things well. LeBron does all four.

LeBron was also unusual in that his character developed rapidly at an early age. At 18, with $90 million in his hands in his first year in the NBA, Alice and I often marveled at how he handled interviews, teammates and coaches. He showed signs of humility and respect for those around him that often surprised us for one who’d found success as early as he did. He also acted like a kid who knew he was lucky to be there.

And he was giving. He spoke often and fondly of his hometown of Akron/Cleveland, lent his name and appearances to many, many local charities and he made wonderful symbolic gestures like accepting his first MVP award at his high school and allowing only students and parents to attend.

And his work ethic was, and still is, amazing.

During each of the seven summers he was here, he significantly improved. He improved his shooting and his defense dramatically over that time. For those not familiar with the sport, shooting and defense are less talent related issues as they are the product of repetition, desire and mental focus.

So I just can’t find the anger and remorse that most Clevelanders are feeling right now.

He’s a superstar athlete that gave his home town a boost and a lot of love for seven long years – even more when you count his high school days when he also brought attention to our region.

If you’re waiting for a punch line, here it is: While I’m not feeling sorry for myself, my team or my town, I am feeling sorry for LeBron.

Alice and I noticed from the beginning that he is a people pleaser. And when the people he was trying to please were his coaches, his teachers and the people who helped his mother raise him, there was an extraordinary effect. He seemed an old soul, wise well beyond his years and grateful. And he really enjoyed pleasing the fans of Cleveland and in every NBA town he visited.

But over the years we’ve watched his posse grow and we’ve noticed him trying to please even more people, most recently (among others) the executives at ESPN. Together they created an embarrassing program on ESPN titled “The Decision”, where he announced to “the world” that he was leaving Cleveland for the Miami Heat.

My friends and fellow Cleveland fans are livid because they believe the show disrespected Cleveland.

I’m sad because I believe he showed disrespect for himself.

You see it’s a very long distance from pleasing the folks of your hometown and high school and extended family to pleasing your hangers-on and the gods of broadcasting. The former group actually cares about you while the latter group cares more about what you can do for them.

Six weeks later, I doubt if James yet realizes that few outside of South Florida and his handlers care that he is “taking his talents to Miami.”

And in pleasing that smaller circle, he committed brand suicide. That is, if you’re a fan in any market other than Miami, it’s hard to like a guy who used a one hour TV show to deliver 30 seconds of news.

The program showed me that his handlers have convinced him that everyone likes him so much that they’d all be spell bound by this career move. Instead, of course, he succeeded in alienating major market fans in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles and 26 other NBA cities.

Many gifted athletes who also possess intelligence and likability have fallen prey to the same issue. Brett Favre, whose handlers convinced him we annually await his retirement decision, comes to mind.

Developing your talent and building your character leads to becoming a better person and living a better life. Taking yourself too seriously leads to becoming a smaller person and to a life isolated from reality.

I hope I’m wrong. LeBron deserves better.

He more or less raised himself in the projects of West Akron and for years listened to the good advice from good people who loved him. He worked extremely hard to develop his athletic prowess and his character and as a result became one of the most famous and highest paid athletes in the world.

Because of all that, I wish him well. I will not boo him when he comes to town but I will cheer for my Cavaliers. But if I could ever say one thing to him, it would be this, a quote from Herbert Swope :

“I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure--which is: Try to please everybody.”

This is just as true in sports as it is in business as it is in life.

Tags: Monthly Newsletter, Business & Entrepreneurship, Organizational & Operational Excellence

Tim McCarthy

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