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What Does LeBron James Know About Leadership?

Athletes learn and practice leadership. They get elected. We can learn from them.

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BY Joshua Spodek - 20 Feb 2018

What Does LeBron James Know About Leadership?

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

To tell an athlete to "shut up and dribble" shows profound misunderstanding of how much sports and athletics teach leadership, all the more so among leaders of champion teams.

If you read Inc. to improve your leadership, LeBron James may have his flaws, as any leader does, but remains an exemplary role model. As a leadership professor, coach, and author, I suggest looking more to learn from champion athletes than to demean them.

Leaders and Sports

Let's just consider United States presidents, representatives, and governors who were athletes:

  1. Dwight Eisenhower was a linebacker at West Point
  2. Barack Obama played basketball throughout his presidency
  3. Ronald Reagan played football and swam in college
  4. Abraham Lincoln wrestled (and talked trash)
  5. Teddy Roosevelt, the rugged outdoorsman said: "It is of far more importance that a man should play something himself, even if he plays it badly, than that he should go with hundreds of companions to see someone else play well,"
  6. Gerald Ford won 2 college football championships in undefeated seasons
  7. John Kennedy swam varsity at Harvard
  8. George H. W. Bush played first base in two College World Series
  9. Bill Bradley was a 2-time champion New York Knick
  10. Bob Methias was a track and field Olympic medalist who played in the Rose Bowl
  11. Jack Kemp played 13 seasons of professional football
  12. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a world champion bodybuilder
  13. Jesse Ventura was a professional wrestler (maybe more entertainer than athlete)
  14. Kevin Johnson was an All Star basketball player and Olympian

The list goes on.

It's hard not to add Nelson Mandela, who boxed and exercised daily for 27 years in prison. Can anyone deny the cultural leadership of Billie Jean King, Venus and Serena Williams, and Danica Patrick?

Sports and Leadership

Competitive and team sports teach teamwork, resilience, diligence, grace, humility, and more. Playing at James's level gives experience performing and communicating nationally and globally.

Few of us can imagine the pressures of competing at that level, let alone leading multiple teams to multiple championships, and staying calm under that pressure. Even losing championships teaches valuable leadership lessons. Such experiences give James unique insight into national and global leadership that suggest value in his views.

LeBron James is famous for his philanthropy, especially helping children and education, as well as business and community service.

Want to learn to lead? Sports is a good place to start.

To imply an athlete's ability to dribble lowers his or her ability to lead sends a counterproductive message, especially to children, students, and aspiring leaders. That dichotomy is false.

Not only do sports effectively teach many social and emotional skills valuable for leadership, some are difficult to learn without sports.

As the Harvard Political Review stated in Sports vs. Education: A False Choice,

Contrary to cultural undercurrents, sports participation and academic success are not mutually exclusive. The education attainable through sports can be incredibly valuable in other arenas of life.

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