Last week was highlighted, if that's the right word, by another flare up in the periodically entertaining and almost always perplexing feud between Kobe Bryant and Smush Parker. (Perplexing because the notion of someone with Kobe's stature in the game trading barbs every couple of years with Smush Parker is a little bizarre.)
Over the weekend Kobe articulated his leadership philosophy on his Facebook page.
"Leadership is responsibility.
There comes a point when one must make a decision. Are YOU willing to do what it takes to push the right buttons to elevate those around you? If the answer is YES, are you willing to push the right buttons even if it means being perceived as the villain? Here's where the true responsibility of being a leader lies.
Sometimes you must prioritize the success of the team ahead of how your own image is perceived. The ability to elevate those around you is more than simply sharing the ball or making teammates feel a certain level of comfort. It's pushing them to find their inner beast, even if they end up resenting you for it at the time.
I'd rather be perceived as a winner than a good teammate. I wish they both went hand in hand all the time but that's just not reality. I have nothing in common with lazy people who blame others for their lack of success. Great things come from hard work and perseverance. No excuses.
This is my way. It might not be right for YOU but all I can do is share my thoughts. It’s on YOU to figure out which leadership style suits you best.
Will check back in with you soon.. Till then
His central premise -- that in the interest of larger goals real leadership requires a willingness to say or do unpopular things perhaps damaging to the leader's popularity or public image -- is undeniable, but not universally practiced. (Just look at Washington, D.C.) And there's absolutely no question Kobe is willing to push whatever buttons he feels necessary if it gets his team -- and himself, obviously -- closer to a title. That he's willing to be unpopular (Kobe uses different terminology) in the process is also self-evident.
If it's not, he'll frequently remind you.
It's a badge he wears with pride, actually, and not without with cause. Many aren't willing to sacrifice personal popularity in the interest of larger goals. As Dwight Howard can attest, the natural desire to please and be liked is a powerful one.
Kobe knows exactly how he prioritizes that sort of thing relative to winning.
Over the course of now 17 seasons in L.A., the demands on Kobe as a leader have changed. Earlier in his career, Bryant's role wasn't as expansive. He didn't so much lead (not in the way we traditionally think of the word, at least) as get out front in a very competitive environment and drag guys with him through will, stubbornness, and on-floor talent. In time, though, as more has been required Bryant has adjusted. He's softened the edges, grown less insular, and learned you can't be that guy all the time and expect people to follow.
There is greater depth to his leadership, and never does he demand levels of hard work he's himself unwilling to meet.
Still, his style is fundamentally abrasive and incredibly demanding, emphasizing the need for contrasting personalities around him to balance things out. The '09-'10 title teams had the gravitas of Derek Fisher. Lamar Odom was the emotional core of the locker room. Pau Gasol's professionalism, skill and team-first ethic afford him wide respect and are a model of how to play on a Bryant-led team. Each displayed leadership in different forms. There have been plenty of times when I and others have questioned both the necessity and efficacy of Bryant's tactics, but measuring the degree to which his personality has ultimately helped or hurt his cause over the course of his career is difficult. If Kobe were wired differently, he might be a better (or at least more appealing) leader, but not the same type of player.
Michael Jordan was considered a brutally tough teammate, but at the same time is the consensus greatest of all time. People see LeBron James as more generous, but until last season his ability to close the deal was widely questioned. Asking one player to tick every box isn't fair.
With five titles it's impossible to argue Kobe hasn't done a few things right.
Meanwhile, it's a myth that Kobe doesn't care how you think of him. If he didn't, Facebook posts like this wouldn't exist.
He wants you to see him as a player with the ultimate dedication to winning, and why he does what he does. He actively tries to dispel the notion he's selfish, and that he can't share a floor with others. (Generally, it's in this context the Parker references come. Give me teammates that perform well, Kobe says, and I'll give up the ball. Give me Smush -- metaphorically or literally -- and I'm shooting. Debate the merits, if you want, but that's his point.) He wants you to appreciate his appreciation for the game's history and those who came before him. Away from the floor, he wants you to know his dedication to his kids, and about his work to combat homelessness in L.A.
What he doesn't seek is political-style likeability. If the average fan understands the other stuff, Bryant doesn't really care if that same fan rates him lower in the "Who would you rather sit and have a beer with?" scale.
Which is better, Kobe might ask, a beer or a parade? Then you can decide if Kobe's way is the best way to earn one.