Jonathan Kraut | What Leaders Can Learn from Kobe

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What are legends made of? Whom do we idolize? Which character traits do we wish to emulate? 

In each generation emerges special men and women of legendary leadership. 

We learn from those who demonstrate exemplary traits and who tackle challenges of their time. 

World War II revealed the toughness, steadfastness, and never-quit personas of Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. These men accepted a higher calling as the world was terrorized by bombs, bloodshed and battle. Calm resolve was needed during that tragic time and calm resolve was what these leaders offered.

Icons from the Civil Rights Era are remembered for leading us into a new spirit of brotherhood, equality and inclusion. While seeking equal treatment under the law for all races, a new understanding and openness toward human dignity were championed by John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and even uncharismatic Lyndon Johnson.

We should be reminded every election day that not that long ago many of color were denied equal legal access to simple things such as a front seat on a public bus or to cast a vote in an election.

Sure, Bill Gates of Microsoft, Steve Jobs of Apple, and PayPal, Tesla, and Space X founder Elon Musk might be giants of innovation of our current time. But in this era, often called the Information Age, we can also turn toward athletes for inspiration as well.  

Athletes are vulnerable in ways not often experienced in politics or in business. Their athletic skill and successes are constantly measured, re-tested and recalculated. To be an athlete is to be subject to constant criticism, daily opportunities for failure, and competition with those with like skill and intensity. 

Athletes must be thick-skinned and learn from failure as much as success, often on a daily basis. As many know, the mind is harder to train than the body and athletes must excel by training both.

How different our government would be if our elected officials would be graded and given a score every day.

Points for cooperation, teamwork, innovation, problem solving, efficiency, owning their misconduct and using our taxpayer funds well would change everything.  A scoring system for our officials would make meaningless all that prattle about “what we need to do,” “they are treating us unfairly,” and “if it wasn’t for the other side stopping us.” 

Unfortunately, we do not evaluate our leaders with metrics or merit. 

We simply judge politicians by whether they agree with our views. Harsh rhetoric, accusatory statements, and tough talk may move some on an emotional level but rarely move society toward progress or change.

That is why our athletes are special.  

Kobe Bryant, now the late and great Kobe Bryant, demonstrated a spirit of competitiveness and focus rarely experienced in our times.

True, the metrics of Kobe’s success on the basketball court were phenomenal. Yes, his natural abilities were unchallenged and his skill set was unmatched. But Kobe for L.A., and the world, was much more than a high scorer. 

Kobe led in front by example with scoring as he pushed from behind with persistence and motivation at the same time.

Kobe understood and made known that no player on his team could slack up or take a pause on the court. He publicly shamed teammates for holding back. Kobe never held back.

Instead of blaming the victim about an extramarital incident, Kobe took full responsibility at the risk of losing his beloved wife Vanessa, by accepting full blame and becoming a better man and a better husband.

Kobe was not just personally relentless — he expected that same intense commitment from everyone on his Lakers team. Kobe knew that it would take the whole team to win a championship, not just one or two star players.

Kobe’s memory, I hope, will move us, and our leaders, to embrace taking responsibility over name calling, acknowledge mistakes instead of blaming others, and have the willingness to adapt at a moment’s notice. This is how we as a nation can rise above. This is how humanity can continue to mature.

Kobe’s message was that the greatest achievements take a whole team as one. That leaders must create cooperation through example and yet acknowledge and thus learn from one’s mistakes.  

Twenty years with but one professional team. Five NBA championships. Two Olympic gold medals. An Oscar. But Kobe was so much more than that.

Leading by example in front as he pushed from behind with persistence and motivation at the same time. 

Uniquely remarkable — our era’s model of a true champion. 

Kobe Bryant has shown us the way. Let’s follow.

Jonathan Kraut directs a private investigations firm, is the CFO of a private security firm, is the COO of at an acting conservatory, is a published author, and Democratic Party activist. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal or of other organizations.

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