Kyrie Irving’s Strategy Is Misguided If He Left Cleveland to Be the Dominant Player

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.

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Jayne Juvan

Jayne Juvan is a high energy corporate and securities partner at Tucker Ellis LLP where she counsels public and high-growth private companies, private equity funds, and venture capital funds from initial formation through all stages of the business life cycle. Jayne also frequently can be found in the boardroom with directors as they make highly impactful, potentially transformative, and confidential decisions. A frequent and sought-after writer and speaker featured in the Harvard Business Review and Forbes for her unique use of social media as an attorney, Jayne covers the daily developments in these areas on Twitter at twitter.com/jaynejuvan. She has also been quoted or featured by Bloomberg Law, Thomson Reuters, and Crain’s, and Ethisphere named her to the Attorneys Who Matter list in 2016. The opinions expressed herein are her own and should not be attributed to her law firm

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • From her book, “Talking from 9 to 5”, Dr. Deborah Tannen says that men have a tendency to work in hierarchies, while women work in teams. This seems to be a very innate difference between the sexes. That’s not to say that men can’t or won’t work in teams nor that you will never see women rising in ranks in hierarchies, indeed business that are more flat and networked are said to be more productive than organizations with strict hierarchies. I’m mentioning this because it does not surprise me that you find a team oriented corporate culture to be a much better culture for you to work in.

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