Mark Cuban turns failure into success

If you can recognize your strongest skills and those of the people around you, then you can win in business.

“It’s about winning,” Cuban says. “Your ego gets rewarded a whole lot more by winning in terms of your business success and the success of your company than you do by winning an argument or a battle or just trying to prove to people that you’re good at everything. When someone tries to tell me they’re good at everything, I know they’re lying.”

Have a ruthless focus

When Cuban became the Dallas Mavericks’ owner, he walked into a losing franchise that struggled to fill seats, and he didn’t say, “I’m the new owner; do what I say.” Instead, he put his desk in the middle of the sales bullpen, put a copy of the phone book and old sales leads on his desk, and he started calling people along with everyone else.

“I said, ‘Look, we’re speeding up, and either you’re on the train or off the train,’” he says. “‘If you keep up, you stay on. If you don’t, we’ll still be friends, but you know, you’re going to fall off the train, and we’re going to figure out how to move forward without you.’”

To succeed, you have to be completely focused on what it is you want to do.

“You have to go in and be very specific about what your goals are, what you’re willing to accept and what you won’t accept,” he says.

The first thing he clarified to his employees was that they were not in the basketball business — they were in the entertainment business.

“We were going to be more like a great wedding than a good high school basketball game,” Cuban says. “A great wedding, you remember Aunt Susie getting drunk and dancing with Cousin Billy, who you hated, but it was fun to watch. What makes a good wedding fun is everyone getting together and yelling and screaming and having fun.

“When you remember the first sporting event you went to, you don’t remember the score or the date. You remember who you were with and what you did with that person.”

He then had to be clear regarding what they needed to achieve. The old arena had 17,700 seats, and there were 41 home games plus playoffs, so he put up signs saying “17,700 times 41 — that’s our goal. That’s how many we have to sell.” He asked them how they were going to get there and said nothing else mattered. He promised the team and coaches that he’d do everything in his power to give them the resources they needed to get the losing franchise winning.

As a result, games became electric with entertainment, which brought people in, and he hired new coaches to help the team win.

“I made it quite clear what we were trying to accomplish,” he says. “There was no ambiguity at all.”

In these situations, he says it’s important for you as the leader to set those goals and not rely on a group of people to do that.

“You have to know exactly what your goal is, and you have to know how you’re going to get there,” he says. “Where companies fail miserably is they try to create goals by committee. You can’t have committee leadership. If you don’t know, you’re preparing yourself to fail.”

Communication also plays a key role in setting goals and staying focused on them.

“Good leadership is being able to explain how you’re going to kick your competition’s ass and being able to explain to everybody how they’re going to participate in doing that,” he says. “Otherwise, what are you doing there?”

He says you also have to adjust your communication depending on the type of people you have in your organization.

“Are you dealing with 18-year-olds, 25-year-olds, 40-year-olds?” he asks. “Are you in a very competitive business that moves quickly? You have to match the circumstances and the context and adjust accordingly. If my business is where I trust people and things are going well, then all I need is a weekly report via e-mail. That’s it. Just tell me what’s going on — bad news first — and then we’ll deal with it. If I’m in a situation where things aren’t going well, then I’m going to be up your ass. It just depends. It’s when you try to do it the same way every time, that’s when you run into problems.”

His intense focus paid off — the Mavericks have become a winning franchise and reached the playoffs now in each of the full seasons since he bought them, and fans are packing the arena to wildly cheer alongside the animated Cuban.

“Ideas are the easy part,” he says. “It’s the execution of the idea that becomes the difficult part.”