As the sports world digests the recent trade by the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics — and whether it will in fact go through because of Isaiah Thomas’s hip injury – many are asking whether Kyrie Irving made the right decision when he asked to leave a strong team well positioned for another championship run in favor of an opportunity that will allow him to shine individually. While only a few likely know all of the reasons Irving decided to request a move to another team before his contract expires, some have suggested that Irving became tired of living in the shadow of LeBron James and desired to make his own mark by becoming the leader of another team. No question — LeBron is an imposing figure, but does it make sense to break from a team with historic potential in favor of an opportunity to be in control?
Irving certainly isn’t the first in sports or business who wants to be a dominating force. Many high-achieving, ambitious executives and athletes feel the need to take their position atop the rest and build an empire. While some have a genuine need to depart organizations because they feel stifled by their bosses, in other cases, arrogance plays a role. The unfortunate downside that may be overlooked, though, is that being a dominant player can be quite lonely, and comparing your success to the success of others does little to energize or uplift those around you upon whom your performance depends. In less severe instances, morale among a group may suffer, but in the most extreme cases, the story may play out in a way that resembles a dramatic Greek tragedy in which this character weakness leads to misfortune.
While careers naturally take twists and turns, instead of desiring to dominate, explore where you can position yourself so that you can play a role in building a high caliber team that values the contributions of all of the members. I am a practicing corporate and securities lawyer, and the legal profession in particular is known for creating lone wolves with strong personalities who stifle others. When I joined Tucker Ellis LLP, a law firm with a large presence in Cleveland, I intentionally decided that I wanted nothing to do with the individual empire building approach and instead wanted simply to be a contributing member of a true team. Six months later, it has become clear that moving to a culture that values collaboration and the contributions of others was one of the best career decisions I have ever made.
At Tucker, I teamed up with Chris Hewitt, a well-respected M&A and corporate governance attorney, under the theory that our practices would be stronger together than they were individually. That not only is the case, but the friendship we have built is refreshing and drives better results. The firm also has a deep bench of corporate attorneys, none of whom are dominating or aggressive. I brought two colleagues with me to the firm who had been key members of our prior team and share the same values. Ashley Gault, a corporate and real estate associate, and my assistant Jennifer Sullivan, who had been by my side day in and day out for four years, transitioned with me. Both are focused on the group’s performance more than their individual goals, and I’ve never heard either say that they have the desire to be the dominating force.
We operate under a framework that requires mutual respect and offers an opportunity for everyone to thrive. That doesn’t mean that individual performance is irrelevant – it still does matter. But it also means that we’ve shed the negative qualities associated with hierarchies, and we share the credit so everyone participates in any success we are fortunate to experience. The result is that we’re a happier group and have the chance to perform on a much higher level collectively than we ever could have alone. Wherever Kyrie ultimately lands, I hope he doesn’t have to learn the hard way about the importance of investing in and valuing the others around him. If he hasn’t already, I hope he realizes quickly that the path to greatness involves including and inspiring others and being willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with them instead of having the need to stand above them.