7 Leadership Lessons From The Oklahoma City Thunder

thunder tshirtThose of you who have followed me for awhile, know that I’m a fan of 2 sports teams: OU Sooners and OKC Thunder. Additionally, I’m also a fan of great leadership, leadership lessons and seeing people realize their leadership potential. The Oklahoma City Thunder are a young franchise filled with young players. Fortunately for Thunder fans like myself, neither of those two factors has limited their success. The Thunder have been very successful and I’m a true believer that everything rises and falls with leadership, in this case the Thunder have risen because of great leadership and having great players is a part of great leadership.

I thought I would share 7 Leadership Lessons From The Oklahoma City Thunder.

  • 1. Size Doesn’t Matter – Although Oklahoma City is a small market team, that has not prohibited them from being successful in comparison to the Big Boys. Not only did the Thunder make it to the NBA Finals last year, they are consistently outranking NBA franchises in all areas from much larger markets. They have been voted by ESPN The Magazine as best franchise in sports, Kevin Durant ranks #3 in Jersey Sales, #12 in NBA Franchise Values…
  • 2. Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number – The Thunder were the youngest team in the NBA last season and are still at the top of the youthfulness meter this year. The Thunder get it done with a young franchise, young GM, a young coach, young players and a veteran named Derek Fisher who is obviously young at heart.
  • 3. Release and Reload – In just a few years the Oklahoma City Thunder have released more players to greatness than some teams will ever see. Some notable players they have released in the last year or so include some of this seasons NBA Stars, all of who played or are still playing in the playoffs: James Harden, Nate Robinson, Jeff Green, Eric Maynor, Daequan Cook… The bottom line is the Thunder has a strong enough leadership culture/supporting cast that they can truly release and reload, while staying lean with salaries.
  • 4. Hungry Hungry Hippo – The Thunder remain hungry and have a hungry swagger about them. When Kendrick Perkins showed up from the Celtics, the Thunder didn’t just have a sense of hunger, they developed a sense of toughness that was needed to compliment the hunger. To top that off, Russell Westbrook’s me against the world swagger is just the right seasoning for the team leader and currently injured point-guard extraordinaire to keep the team pressing full steam ahead. It’s contagious!
  • 5. Development Is The Lifeblood- Development is crucial when it comes to leadership. Many thought Russell Westbrook was drafted too high and couldn’t play point-guard in the NBA. Obviously the 2-Time All-Star has crushed those thoughts, as he has developed into being one of the best point-guards in the NBA. (He may not be be a “traditional” point guard, who needs traditional when you are great?) Hasheem Thabeat was drafted high and could never seem to get on the floor when he was with the Memphis Grizzlies; however since he arrived in Oklahoma City, he has put up career highs in almost every category and has been a key ingredient off the the bench all season. The Thunder have been praised by their use of the d-league system. Their d-league team is just an hour and a half away in Tulsa and players have been known to play in the d-league and get some playing time for the Thunder all in the same week. Derek Fisher was brought in not only for his contributions that we have seen in the playoffs, but to help develop both Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson (it’s hard to argue with 5 rings and more playoff games than every NBA player besides a few.
  • 6. Look Into The Future – The Thunder Leadership have tremendous foresight. Whether it’s seeing the unreached potential of a rising Serge Ibaka and signing him to a max deal, the realization that it would be almost impossible to keep James Harden around, to re-signing Derek Fisher this year which proved to be one of the more Big Time decisions ever, with the loss of Russell Westbrook.
  • 7. Culture Trumps Everything – The thunder has a unique culture, a culture that aligns with the culture and values of the city and the fans. At the end of the day “We are about team, we are about community.” It was nice to see the free Thunder t-shirt represented by every fan during Game 1 with the Grizzlies, simply said “Community” across the chest. Other free playoff t-shirts in the past have said “We Are One” “Thunder Is Community” “Rise Together” you get the picture. Culture is so critical, a great culture will bring out greatness in everyone. Money + Great Players + Big Cities ≠ greatness. If you add the 7 things on this list, you are destined for greatness.

The Thunder may have a little ways to go before they can take out the already crowned repeated NBA Champions Miami Heat. They are definitely close and are clawing at their heals. Greatness takes time to achieve and leadership is the only road to greatness. Don’t worry about size, age, losing key pieces to the puzzle, simply stay hungry, develop what you have, have some foresight and remember culture is crucial. For the record, this Thunder fan isn’t crowning the Heat. The easiest way to fall is to think that you have already arrived.

Do any of these resonate with you and your organization? Share your thoughts? 

  • Everything rises and falls with leadership. The Seattle Supersonics were a disaster, but once in OKC everything seemed to fall in place. I am a Baltimore Ravens fan, and I see the success on the field due to a strong leader on the sideline (Ray Lewis) and solid coach.

    I have worked in many organizations with poor leaders and ones with great leaders and I can definitely see the difference.

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