What global leaders can learn from the 2015 NBA Playoffs

Many of the individuals who participated in one of our cultural training programs will tell you that we like to use sports analogies to explain behavioral and organizational dynamics. I am particularly fond of the football vs. football comparison which metaphorically pits American Football against Soccer/Football to illustrate different concepts of leadership in certain cultures.
Not quite as often do I talk about basketball in this context. Now that the 2015 NBA Playoffs in the United States have entered its final series, let’s look at what lessons global leaders can draw from this sport. Or rather, let’s look at who got the two finalists to the endgame.
Given the fact that I am not much of an expert (or fan) of basketball, the only thing I actually found fascinating when reading about the face-off between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers are the head coaches of these teams: Steve Kerr and David Blatt.
Both of these gentlemen have extensive experience in living and working in several different countries. Mr. Blatt is an Israeli-American who, as a player was active in the United States and in Israel. As a coach he expanded his international experience when he worked for teams in Italy, Russia, Turkey, Greece, Israel, and – since 2014 – in Cleveland, Ohio. Mr. Kerr was born in Beirut to American expatriate parents and spent his childhood years in Lebanon, Tunisia, Egypt, and France before returning to California where he began his basketball career. Both Blatt and Kerr are also first-time head coaches in the American professional basketball league NBA.


In terms of U.S sports the careers of these to men are arguably very unconventional, as the New York Times called it. In 2004, Steve Kerr gave a commencement speech during which he made some remarkable comments: “My parents literally showed me a whole world that existed beyond typical American culture. They gave me an education in understanding people, in being compassionate and respectful. They taught me that though people may speak or dress differently, or have customs or beliefs that were foreign to me, it was important to take the time to not only understand those differences, but to embrace them as well.“
How many of you would agree that this cultural tenacity, learning and practicing multiple languages, being exposed to different cultural values and religious environments has supported Blatt’s and Kerr’s careers? How many of you would agree that the lessons they learned while crossing cultures abroad are helping them today in their jobs in the U.S.?
What are you doing to embrace what is foreign to you? How are you learning to inspire and motivate others? Leading and influencing people is hard enough within our own cultures; it’s often exponentially harder with people from other cultures. To be successful abroad, global leaders need to learn how to inspire and motivate in a foreign culture. Many times they have to redefine what powerful communication means in various cultural contexts. And they need to adapt to different ways of building teams and maintaining relationships.
Kerr and Blatt have internalized these skills. What about you?

May the best team win and the culturally most competent leaders succeed.

Christian Höferle and your team at The Culture Mastery

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