What the NBA’s top star can teach you about becoming an MVP at work.
Basketball superstar LeBron James has dominated the game ever since he joined the NBA in his late teens.
Early in his career, they started calling him “The King.” In the eyes of many sports fans, he’s lived up to the billing.
He’s a perennial all-star, a three-time NBA Most Valuable Player and on a career trajectory that few NBA players have ever matched.
But what, exactly, makes LeBron so good? What makes him so valuable?
You may be tempted to quickly point to James’ headline-grabbing numbers: his points scored, assists and rebounds, among other stats.
But James himself begs to differ. Asked what’s differentiated his performance over the years, King James is clear:
“Efficiency. I’m just a more efficient player. I take no shots for granted…As I’ve grown, I’ve made more of a conscious effort to become a more efficient player and I think it’s helped my team’s success over the years.”
And, according to statisticians, he’s absolutely right.
In the mid-1990s ESPN writer and statistician John Hollinger developed a statistical model to calculate a player’s total contribution to team performance – what he called the Player Efficiency Rating or “PER.”
This metric, as Hollinger describes it, “sums up all a player’s positive accomplishments, subtracts the negative accomplishments, and returns a per-minute rating of a player’s performance.”
PER ratings start at 0 and peak around 35, a number that Hollinger describes as a “Year for the Ages.” Players who have a score of 30+, writes Hollinger, are “Runaway MVP candidates.”
In his 2012-13 MVP seasons LeBron had a PER of 31.87 – nearly 3 points higher than the next closest player, Kevin Durant (the current MVP who led all players in efficiency this year, with a PER of 29.90.) All-time, LeBron’s PER is 27.79, second only to Michael Jordan’s 27.91.
LeBron was right. He has become more efficient – and seems to be getting better every year. But you don’t need to be a basketball player to learn from LeBron’s success. Read on to learn how you can channel your inner LeBron to rise to the top of your game at work and become a true Workforce MVP. (Click here to tweet this list.)
What workforce MVPs and LeBron have in common
Like LeBron, Workforce MVPs prioritize efficiency above all else.
Like LeBron, Workforce MVPs not only do their individual job exceedingly well, but also help others perform at their highest levels, too.
Like LeBron, Workforce MVPs don’t rest on their accomplishments. They invest heavily and consistently in building or enhancing skills they need to remain both competitive and highly effective.
Last but not least, like LeBron, Workforce MVPs are valued highly by the organizations and teams with which they work. They typically get more of the financial remuneration, praise and freedom than others.
If the idea of being a Workforce MVP appeals to you, consider this your training camp. These are four things to start doing today, and every day, as you build the skills and experience necessary to lead your team to victory.
1. Put first things first
We all struggle with sometimes feeling like we have so much to do, and not enough time to do it. Employees who can align their personal to-do list with the most important objectives of their organization quickly differentiate themselves. Managers and colleagues alike notice this skill.
“We have extraordinary numbers of challenges and opportunities to address going forward,” the Head of Talent at a global manufacturing company shared with me recently. “We win only if we are able to put first things first.”
In basketball, the objective is crystal clear: Win. And the strategy for doing so is straightforward: Score more points than the other team. Unfortunately, in many highly-matrixed, global companies, prioritization can be far more complicated.
If you’re not sure how your to-do list aligns with the greater needs of the organization, ask. Engage your manager on the subject. If he or she doesn’t know, then keep asking until you can find someone who can.
One of my favorite questions to help guide this conversation comes from strategic coach, Dan Sullivan:
If we were meeting six months from today, what has to happen during that period for you to feel great about our progress?
2. Help others win
More than just a team player, a Workforce MVP seeks to understand what members of their team want to accomplish (the incentives, the metrics, the accountabilities) and helps them achieve those goals.
- Pro-actively sharing essential information
- Facilitating critical connections
- Eliminating non-essential work as much as possible
We all want to win as an organization. But if you make a point of helping others achieve individual wins, you create not only a better performing team, but also a more loyal colleague and teammate.
3. Build organizational awareness
As the CEO of a large automobile joint venture once shared with me, “every organization suffers from it own beautiful dysfunction.”
I suspect you know what he’s talking about. You know, the funny, odd, seemingly illogical, way certain things get done in your company.
While Workforce MVPs always seek to drive process improvement – and ultimately performance – they also learn to effectively operate in the system, despite its flaws.
More importantly, they make it a point to teach those newer to the organization the ins and outs of the organizational and decision-making hierarchy. They expedite the learning curve for new hires, making tenure less of a correlating factor of performance.
As soon as James decided to re-join his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers — a team and city he knew very well — he got on the phone to share what he knew with Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, a player rumored to be interested in joining LeBron in Cleveland. According to Love, James shared what he knew about new and existing talent on the roster, the management team and the city of Cleveland.
“That [call] had a lot to do with my decision…” said Love after deciding to join LeBron and the Cavaliers.
Every organization has its unique way of doing business. Workforce MVPs work to ensure everyone on their team understands how things get done and ensure their teammates have the right info and resources to be successful in their role.
4. Focus on getting better, not getting ahead
Workforce MVPs can come from any part of an organization. Yet despite the differences in their roles and responsibilities, they all share a mindset of continuous improvement.
Again, LeBron James is a useful role model here. In 2011, after losing the NBA Finals as a member of the Miami Heat, James decided to re-invest in his professional development. He recruited NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon – arguably the best forward ever – to train him. James flew to Olajuwon’s home in Texas and trained with the master for a week.
“I wanted to get better,” said James. “I wanted to improve and I sought out someone who I thought was one of the greatest low-post players to ever play this game.”
Hard to imagine that a guy like James – already one of the best in the league – would need to get better. But that’s what MVPs do: Constantly seek improvement.
This focus on getting better may come easy earlier in your career when there’s so much to learn. But the continued focus on skill building is what differentiates true MVPs from their peers.
What part of your game needs the most work today? Who is your Hakeem? Who is the person you aspire to emulate and can learn from?
LeBron James is a once-in-a-generation talent, no question about it. But his impact and value, maps back to more than just natural athleticism.
While we may never be able to shoot, pass and jump like LeBron, we can still become MVPs in our careers by modeling the efficiency of his game.
Ben Sands writes at Regret Free Life where he helps the smart men and women make great decisions about their careers, money and relationships. For more useful ideas join his free newsletter.