LeBron James proved it again this year. He is a fantastic leader, who carries – drags – his team along with him. In the NBA, he is – without a doubt – the greatest current player, and perhaps one of the greatest players of all time. He is, in short, both a gifted player and a gifted leader. Perhaps this year more than any other in the past, his leadership skills are on display as his Cleveland Cavaliers meet the Golden State Warriors for this year’s NBA Championship. By all accounts, the Warriors should win; but, who would dare bet against the Cavs? Not with LeBron’s leadership.
Enter Connor McDavid. During last season’s final weeks of the NHL scoring race, McDavid showed just how dominant he could be as a player. It was almost as if he simply set his mind to it; and, when he did he quickly caught up and surpassed any other competitor for the scoring lead. Reminds me a bit of The Great One.
LeBron is older and has played more years than McDavid. Those years – that experience – mean something. In those years, he has improved as a player, but he has also worked on the craft of leadership, which is likely harder to engage than talent is. Now, it is McDavid’s turn to become the team leader that LeBron is.
The question is “What can LeBron James teach Connor McDavid as a team leader?”
The LeBron Lessons
Long-Term Vision Lesson
First, if we ignore the rumors of LeBron’s leaving Cleveland at the end of this season (and at this point, they are only rumors), James can teach McDavid to engage a long-term vision, and this vision is the most important leadership trait any effective leader shows.
Remember that James is from Ohio, and returned to his home state with the simple purpose of leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA championship. James’ belief that this would happen led his teammates to believe as well. The result? Vision instills confidence, and confidence creates reality. And, sports – more than any other area of life – magically uses the fuel of confidence to run the motor of winning.
In short, McDavid’s leadership must build the vision that the Oilers WILL win. McDavid cannot be shy about talking to his teammates – one-by-one. His message must be that each of them is integral to the team’s success and that the team, with them engaging their unique skill and part, is greater than the sum of its individual players.
The Walk the Talk Lesson
The second leadership lesson LeBron James can teach is to walk the talk. While he can dominate a game and often win it by himself, when you watch James play, it isn’t his skill that catches your eye – it’s the way he brings his teammates into the play. He sees both the court and the long-term goal. He makes his teammates better because he makes them parts of the action. If they are open, he gets them the ball and expects them to do something with it. Fortunately, McDavid – like Gretzky before him – seems wired that way. He values the assist – even the 2ndassist – as much scoring a goal. McDavid simply needs to keep doing what he is doing.
Hockey may be different than basketball in that one player may have less of an overall impact on the ice than a basketballer does on the court, but there is no denying McDavid’s ability to take over a game, include his linemates and motivate long stretches of play.
The Never Give Up Lesson
The third leadership lesson LeBron James can teach is that “never-give-up” attitude. When a game is on the line, he simply ramps it up. This is the attitude that killed any chances the Toronto Raptors had and broke their spirits. James did the same thing to the Boston Celtics. He simply makes it happen. One can see McDavid beginning to develop this same attitude. If McDavid can come to engage this quality more, the rest of the team will follow his example – not just his words.
No season can be lost and no lead too great to come back from. No series can be out of reach and no goal unattainable. We already know that to McDavid, no individual trophy is out of reach. This kind of example is inspiring.
The Keep Learning Lesson
The fourth leadership lesson LeBron James can teach is to keep learning. When James left the Cavaliers to join Pat Riley’s Miami Heat, he not only won but he also learned. He carried those lessons back to Cleveland. Such learning was foundational for the success that came later.
If nothing else, 2017-18 was a learning year for Connor McDavid. What McDavid learned hardest was how debilitating losing and defeated expectations can be. These lessons can be leveraged into success, and 2018-19 could be the year to put those lessons into practice. Take a look at the video below to see how much of a student LeBron is of every game and every play. It’s incredible when you see it back and it’s something McDavid can adopt since he clearly has a mind for the game.
The Engage the Critics Lesson
The fifth leadership lesson LeBron James can teach is to engage critics head-on and bring them into the vision. Before James returned to the Cavs, they had never won a championship in their entire history. James had to bring everyone who counted (all the vocal critics) into the vision – even the Cavaliers’ leadership. He had to make sure there were no bad feelings because grudges can cloud vision.
If there ever were a time to being Oilers’ critics – including Oilers’ fans – on board, it is now. Today, Oilers’ fans don’t know what to believe. Perhaps broken-hearted is too strong a word, but broken in spirit is not. It is time for McDavid to step up and enliven the vision of Oilers’ fans again. The city could use such leadership; the fans could use such leadership; and, for sure, the team could use such leadership. This is the year to make it happen. We all know that Connor McDavid is a great player: but this is the year for him to further his skills as a leader.
Jim Parsons is a freelance writer who covers the Edmonton Oilers and news and rumors posts here at The Hockey Writers.
Follow below on any my social media accounts.