by Steve Adubato, PhD
“Linsanity” has taken over the basketball world. Jeremy Lin is the dynamic new point guard for the New York Knicks who came out of nowhere to become the toast of the town. Undrafted, out of Harvard, cut by two NBA teams, sitting on the end of the Knicks’ bench and now everyone is talking about him.
Who knows how long the excitement about this kid is going to last because the basketball gods can often play funny tricks, but the leadership lessons this young man has demonstrated in this absurdly short period of time are extremely valuable for all of us, regardless of what professional court or arena in which we perform. Consider the following:
--Jeremy Lin’s basketball game is very unselfish. He is always looking to make others on the team look good, setting them up with assists and passes so they can score. That’s what great leaders do. They make others on the team play well and put them in positions to succeed. They don’t need to be the one scoring the most points or being out front all the time. Somehow at the ripe young age of 23, Lin already seems to know this important leadership lesson.
--Lin’s positive, can-do attitude is infectious. This kid is always smiling and his body language is up beat, even when he makes a mistake. Lin has made a lot of turnovers, but he never hangs his head or points a finger at anyone else. He owns it. But he is right there seconds later with the ball in his hands ready to do what has to be done. This positive attitude has rubbed off on the other Knicks players. Think about how valuable that is on a team. Others may be more talented than Jeremy Lin, but this one player has changed the team’s chemistry in dramatic fashion. That’s leadership.
--Humility. In spite of all the drama around him, Jeremy Lin doesn’t seem distracted. Of course he must be thrilled by all the attention and celebrity, but he stays focused on the job at hand. Great leaders keep their eye on the prize. They know what needs to be done and don’t get easily thrown off by the constant wave of adulation and attention. They don’t make it about themselves, they make it about the larger goal of the team, which is to achieve success. Great leaders know that such celebrity and fame is fleeting, but what is enduring is creating a standard of excellence for your team or organization.
--Lin constantly recognizes the achievements of his teammates. When interviewers ask him about his success and “Linsanity”, he immediately reframes his communication by talking about his teammates. He specifically mentions one teammate who did a great job defending an opposing player who he—Lin—couldn’t stop. He recognizes another for rebounding and bringing energy to the team’s offense. You can tell he means it. Think about the impact his recognition of other teammates has on those other players. Great leaders understand the necessity to praise others, not just because it’s true, but because it builds a more cohesive and successful team.
Finally, Jeremy Lin is persistent. Remember, he was cut by two teams. He was never drafted. Virtually no one gave him a chance, but he never gave up. Great leaders believe in themselves when few others do. This kind of inner-confidence is not about bragging or boasting. It’s about knowing that you’ve put in the work and that when the time comes, you will be ready to perform. That’s about basketball, business, but ultimately it’s about leadership.