Ignore The Unicorns: And Other Lessons LeBron James Can’t Teach You

There are superstars in every industry; yours is no exception. You’re paying close attention to the best players, hoping to grab some insights. I just don’t think it’s...

Photo: Michael Katz, founder and Chief Penguin of Blue Penguin Development; Source: Courtesy Photo

This time of year (NBA Playoffs season), and in this part of the world (the U.S.) it’s pretty hard not to hear about LeBron James. 

LeBron James is considered by many to be the best basketball player on the face of the Earth. (As someone who is not even considered the best basketball player in his immediate family, I find this quite impressive.)

So with the NBA playoffs in full swing and even if his team (the Cleveland Cavaliers) doesn’t make it all the way he gets quite a bit of press coverage.

Is he fun to watch? Absolutely! He does things on a basketball court that at times don’t seem physically possible.

Can you, as a totally average basketball player, learn a lot from watching LeBron play? 

I’m going to go with, “Not so much.”

The problem is that LeBron James is way beyond normal on any number of relevant factors: He’s 6’8″ and weighs 240 pounds. He’s incredibly strong. He’s a fantastic passer. He’s a fabulous defender. He can play any position on the court and can switch at a moment’s notice. Rumor has it that when he sweats he smells like freshly baked cookies on a spring day.

Like I said, not normal.


Photo: Semir Ahmed Douibi, Unsplash
Photo: Semir Ahmed Douibi, YFS Magazine

So when you watch him, while you’ll most certainly be entertained, there’s not a lot you can take from his game and apply to your own. Instead, and from a pure learning perspective, you’re much better off watching someone who resides further down the basketball food chain. Somebody very good, certainly. But somebody who relies less on superhuman natural ability and more on conventional skills put to good use.


Ignore the unicorns

I was talking to a colleague the other day about her 30-person salesforce. As you might expect, she has one person who consistently sits on top of the heap – month after month, he outperforms everyone else. Given his results, it’s natural, even logical, to say, “Let’s study what he’s doing and try and teach it to the other 29 salespeople.”

I suggested otherwise. 

Not because super-sales-guy isn’t legitimately super. Rather, because as the perennial leader, there’s a very good chance that much of what keeps him in the top spot – creativity, natural charisma, unusual intelligence, you name it – is neither teachable nor transferable. He’s LeBron James.


Photo: MJ Breiva, Pexels
Photo: MJ Breiva, YFS Magazine

Instead, and for the purposes of overall team improvement, I suggested she focus in on – and try to learn from – whomever is sitting at position #5. Is the #5 salesperson above average? Definitely. Is #5 salesperson superhuman? Probably not.

What’s all this got to do with you? A lot.

There are superstars in every industry; yours is no exception. As an eager beaver (or whatever), you’re paying close attention to the best players, hoping to grab some insights. That’s fine, it certainly won’t cause any harm. I just don’t think it’s the best use of your time.

Most of what’s put them so far out in front of the pack are talents, abilities – maybe even luck – that you probably don’t have. Here as well, little of it is teachable or transferable. Instead, I recommend paying attention to and learning from the above average performers in your world. The people who, while certainly doing well, are not once-in-a-generation gifted.


Michael Katz is a Boston-based marketing consultant and founder of Blue Penguin Development. He specializes in helping professional service firms stand out from the pack by positioning them as Likeable Experts. Get a free copy of his report, “The Professional Service Provider’s Essential Reading List – 11 Recommended Business(ish) Books,” here.


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