Star power Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2008

While LeBron James is a superstar in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ organization, everyone can think of a standout employee in their own business. The question is, as a manager, how do you coach and work with this player to make him or her better?

Cleveland Cavaliers General Manager Danny Ferry offered his advice at an event benefiting the Ronald McDonald House about how to coach your best to be better.

“My thought of how we coach the best is, for example with LeBron, being honest with him — whether he had a good game or bad game — being compassionate and trying to do things right, night in and night out,” Ferry says.

Ferry was a standout player at Duke University and went on to play in the NBA for the Cavaliers and the San Antonio Spurs, so he approaches the concept of coaching the best from a player’s view instead of a coach’s.

“At one point, I was the best player on my team, and that was when I was in college and high school,” Ferry says. “I didn’t want to be treated any differently than anyone else.”

It’s important to treat your standout just like the others on the team, and that message should also be communicated to that person.

“This was something that (Duke University Basketball Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski) talked about a lot to me, and this is something that (Cavaliers Head Coach Mike Brown) talked to LeBron [about] — ‘You’re going to have to allow me to be hard on you, and you have to allow me to coach you because everybody else is looking,’” Ferry says. “You have to have that level of trust and communication with your star player and say, ‘I’m going to get on you, and I’m not always going to be right, but it’s important for our culture and important for our team to see that I’m willing to jump your butt more than anybody else.’”

Doing this shows the rest of your employees that you recognize the top performer isn’t perfect. For example, during Cavs film sessions, Ferry says that while the staff uses all of the players’ mistakes, James’ are on there more than anyone else’s.

“In some ways, you have got to put us on your shoulders in the film room, too, and we’re going to learn from your mistakes, as well,” Ferry says.

It’s also crucial that you don’t elevate a bad apple to stardom. “Ultimately, your superstar has to have character for it to really work,” Ferry says. “That person having solid character is hugely important to the potential success for the whole organization.

With solid character, the rest of your organization will try to emulate that behavior.

While it’s important to build up your best person, you also have to be careful of depending on them too much, which is something that, like all managers, Brown has had to work at with his team.

“It’s hard because [James] is such a good player,” Ferry says. “We want to say, ‘Hey, here’s the ball, OK?’ and he can make things happen, but staying with it and putting him more on the back end has been one of Mike’s focuses, and the offense has moved better.”

On top of that, Ferry says the team has done better this past year at playing well when James is out than it has in the past, which wouldn’t have happened if Brown focused only on James.

“It’s a balance, and Mike Brown has to have the credibility to say, ‘Hey, I’m putting us in the best position to win,’” Ferry says.

As the leader, it’s important to utilize your best people to leverage the team, but it’s also important to explain why your star was or wasn’t placed on a project. Doing this fosters trust and builds stronger communication between manager and employee, and

Ferry says Brown does this with his players.

“He’s very honest and open upfront, ‘This is going on, this is going on — I’m going to play you, but this is what I expect, or I’m not going to play you because of these issues,’” Ferry says. “If you communicate afterward, it makes it more challenging because there isn’t as much trust.”

Balancing all of this with everything else you have to worry about as a manager can seem tough, but Ferry boils it down to the fundamentals.

“Whatever it is, you have to win people over with honesty, caring and character, and you have to be consistent — and doing those things consistently.” <

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