Monday, December 28, 2009

Business Advice from Dirk Nowitzki

Those of you who know me know that I am an absolutely rabid fan of the Dallas Mavericks. I was a season ticket holder during the seemingly endless 1990s when the Mavericks were one of the laughing stocks of professional sports—there were years when I couldn’t even give away my tickets to the game. Now that the Mavericks have gotten good, I follow almost every game on television (one of the things I had to give up when I moved from the private practice of law to the nonprofit world was my Mavericks season tickets), go to the games when I can, study the box scores and debate the fortunes of the team on the internet.

That means, of course, that I am also a fan of Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks’ best player. In the past I’ve examined his work as a philosopher (“You’re only free when you want what you have to do.”—think about that for awhile). But last week he came out with a piece of business advice that we all need to take to heart:

"It just feels like, at home, I've got to make every shot down the stretch to win. That's how it feels. ... So we got to figure out something."

Let me set the context. The Mavericks have won a number of close games this year by depending completely and totally on Dirk to win them. The ball comes to the Mavericks’ end. The other players clear out and, as everybody knows, Dirk takes the shot, no matter how good the defense is against him.

This strategy has been pretty successful, but in the long term it’s a loser for the Mavericks and for any business. Just because you have one exceptional worker doesn’t mean you should depend of them to bail you out every time. Circumstances change; people have different strengths; your obstacles will be different. Finally, even the best team player gets tired; gets worn down; has his or her bad day.

Any successful organization depends on a team effort. Don’t stick your superstar out there on his own every time without help to win or lose. When it really, really matters, then you want Dirk to take the last shot, but you can’t put that burden on him every night. Any successful organization needs multiple persons to step up on different occasions, no matter how strong the temptation to let the star win it for you again and again.

Remember, sooner or later Dirk is going to retire. None of us last forever. If people don’t have the experience of taking responsibility when it’s important, then they won’t be ready when they look around and the star isn’t there anymore.

So whether you’re the star or only a role player, listen to Dirk and “figure something out”. Everyone in the organization has to play a part in its success if you want to be good over the long term.

Photo: Dirk hits a game winning shot against the Milwaukee Bucks.

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