Let me tell you a story.


Dirk Nowitzki is an awesome contributor. He’s been showing up on time and turning in world-class, quality work for years now. (See p.s. for a more detailed bio.)

You’d be stoked if Dirk were on your team. But he’s not: he’s the go-to guy on an NBA team based in the US called the Dallas Mavericks.

Even though he’s the team’s go-to guy, Dirk is not what you’d call the leader of his team. No one knows who the leader of that team is, actually. And that’s a big problem.

“How can you be so sure that Dirk isn’t the leader there?”

Fair question. Here’s one piece of evidence: He did not seem to act like a leader in one fundamental area for his organization: the recruitment of new players. In those matters, Dirk chose to react, not lead. And his organization is hurting because of that. Badly.

“How can you know all of that for sure?”

You’re right, I don’t.

Here’s what I know based on the publicly available information. Every summer, NBA teams get a chance to fine-tune their on-court players by attracting and signing promising free agents (that is, players whose contracts, at the time, allow them to switch teams).

While many teams generally improve their fortunes during summer signings, for a few long years now the Mavericks have not. They could not land any big-name free agents if their lives depended on it. And this summer was no exception.

Except for one detail: for the fist time ever, this summer, Dirk Nowitzki was publicly peeved that no big-name free agent was interested in signing with the Mavericks.

Maybe I’m understating it. Dirk actually seemed upset about the direction of the organization. Here’s what he said a few days ago:

“We, as an organization, really have to begin to question everything. Is it me people don’t want to play with? Is it Rick (Carlisle)? Is it Mark (Cuban) and some agents and players hold a grudge because he blew up the 2011 champions? Nobody truly knows. Over the last five years, we have been continuously in for the truly big names in free agency, but all we achieved in the end was that we got them more money and a better contract elsewhere,” Dirk told a German newspaper recently. “As for me personally, I don’t truly care how much I make these days, my main focus is on playing for a winner.”

// Rick Carlisle is the head coach, and Mark Cuban is the owner of the Dallas Mavericks. //

So, what can we learn from the above? My 2¢:

If you’re a leader in your organization and you notice that it may not be getting the direction, momentum, and attention it needs in its fundamental areas, don’t assume that ‘some other folks’ are working on ‘it.’

What’s more, don’t assume malice when incompetence could be the reason.

You don’t become a leader by wishing your life were easier, but by focusing on making yourself better and more accountable. If not you, who? If not now, when?

p.s. A quick bio for those less familiar with the hero of our story, Dirk Nowitzki. He’s a German professional basketball player who has been the engine of the Dallas Mavericks.

He led the Mavericks to 15 NBA Playoffs (2001–2012; 2014–2016), including the franchise’s first Finals appearance in 2006 and only championship in 2011. He is a 13-time All-Star, a 12-time All-NBA Team member, and the first European player to start in an All-Star Game as well as the first to receive the NBA Most Valuable Player Award (2007).

I said that he’s been showing up on time and turning in world-class, quality work for years now, didn’t I? :)