Kevin Durant's Methods Should Be Used By All Leaders

7 Ways to Lead in Basketball and Business

Kevin Durant's emotional acceptance of the 2014 NBA MVP award transcended sports and speeches.

The Oklahoma City Thunder power forward delivered an eloquent acceptance speech spotlighting his supporting cast, revealing the heart of a true leader, and offering a glimpse into one of the more successful teams in the highly competitive world of professional basketball.

The star athlete's speech illustrated key elements that can be real game changers in leading a successful team, and I've broken them down here.

(Photo credit: Oleksiy Naumov / Shutterstock.com)

Durant's speech has been lauded for the very personal manner in which he thanked others, and Durant focused almost exclusively on valued relationships. "When something good happens to me, I tend to look back at what brought me here."

A good team draws strength from the relationships between its players, and employee interactions will either foster company success or drain positive momentum. When management actively promotes good employee relationships, it creates an atmosphere conducive to idea generation with better receptivity to constructive criticisms and greater shared motivation toward common goals.

The quick email acknowledgment of an employee's contribution to a big project, a public "good job" to the gal who brought in a key new client, the pause to say "hello" en route to the elevator -- these things might seem little to you, but they're not. Yes, we toil for paychecks, but small kindnesses prompt bigger efforts.

Durant mentions the special pre-game handshakes that "get him going" and better prepared him for the game. What little thing will spark your regional sales manager to better coach her team? What small encouragement might prompt your assistant personnel director to generate more effective training material?

Little things play a big part in creating and maintaining a positive company culture. Want to attract top candidates? The employees you already have will generate much of the positive (or negative) buzz on social media and in your industry.

More than once, Durant spoke to newer team members, saying "You just got here" and "I didn't know who you were..." Immediately, he went on to describe each newcomer's unique value to the team and to him personally.

Change can be a hard sell. How easy is it for newcomers to assimilate into your company culture? Is your team so tight that it's slow to warm up to new hires? Consider the drag an exclusionary atmosphere might create on ramp up times for new team members. Employees will generate better results sooner when they're solidly welcomed to a team.

Throughout a childhood marked by challenges and even teasing for his rim-reaching height, Durant didn't recognize his own potential. The NBA star's early dreams extended no further than coaching underprivileged kids in rec league basketball. That's why, in his speech, Durant thanks those who believed in him before he believed in himself.

How actively do you facilitate employee development? Hiring the right talent is good. A continued focus on growing the human assets of your business is better.

Ignored employee potential represents untapped skill and talent that could be working for your company's future success. Unrecognized and underutilized talent will wither into wasted opportunity — or be hired away to a competitor. A visionary leader may note unconnected skills and bridge them to enable an employee to expand his contribution.

Even with callouts to more than two-dozen individuals, Durant avoided generalities and was very specific in citing unique contributions. Particular memories—of a note from teammate Caron Butler, of GM Sam Presti's late night text messages—and mentions of players' unique personal qualities, added authenticity to Durant's gratitude.

Specific praise lands with more sincerity and effect than general appreciation. Keeping notes of laudable actions will make it easier for a manager to positively reinforce—and motivate—his or her employees.

"You elevate my game."

Durant recognized the high caliber play of others pushed him to a higher level of achievement. He cited teammates' work ethic, consistency, and hard driving competitiveness as significant factors in making him a scoring champion. He recognized his mom's tenacity and the investment of the coaching staff in pushing him toward excellence.

Professionalism indicates competence and builds confidence. It can show up in the less obvious details like a clean break room and grammatically correct emails. Even if outside the public eye, tolerance of a "B effort" will eventually bleed into public image and company productivity and innovation.

Value high performance over perfection in individuals, while realizing the efforts of multiple highly capable individuals collaborating on common goals should result in near perfect work. And work with everyone to make sure the little details are consistent with your big picture.

While the trophy bears Kevin Durant's name, his words made it clear he considers it to be another team effort and a shared victory. His mom, his teammates, the coaching staff, and many more were included as critical components of his success.

Celebration is both bonding and inspiring. In larger companies, the magnitude of a key success is often diluted into a featured paragraph in the monthly newsletter or as happy gossip in the elevator. Generously tabulating the contributions of many and including them in a business success expands the motivating impact of a victory.

As a good leader, you'll have to fill open positions and your employees will eventually come to you with raise requests as well. Thankfully, Salary.com for Business can help you reexamine your salary structure.

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