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The Price of Leadership

Basketball is Psychology LI

“Winning has a price and leadership has a price. So I pulled people along when they didn’t want to be pulled. I challenged people when they didn’t want to be challenged. Once you joined the team, you lived at a certain standard that I played the game. And I wasn’t going to take anything less.”

- Michael Jordan (The Last Dance)

What is leadership?

Leadership is an attempt to influence. Effective leadership is defined more by one’s contribution of helping others than it is by one’s title or position. Leaders use courage and their example to facilitate the growth of others.

Leadership is more of an art than a science. It’s a practice of knowing when to empathize, question, confront, support, assess, model, suggest, evaluate… etc. Leadership is a skill learned through experience, practice, feedback, and participation.

Leadership comes at a cost.

When you think of a great leader, you probably think of someone who is adored by their followers. The truth is, great leaders aren’t always liked; that’s the price of leadership.

Imagine there’s a player shooting 20% on their 3-pointers, 25% from the field, and 30% from the free-throw line. Now imagine the coach tells him, “You don’t really need to improve your shooting, don’t worry about it. I think you’re doing great!” That might make the player feel good, but the player won’t get better.

Instead, if the coach had said, “You’re not shooting the ball well right now. I know you can do better so I need you to get in the gym, get up extra shots, and work your butt off.” The player might resent his coach for telling him he’s not shooting well and making him put in more work. But, that player will get better.

The first conversation is comfortable. The second conversation is very uncomfortable, because you are saying something that might upset the other person. Avoiding tough conversations is selfish because we only avoid them to keep ourselves comfortable, instead of helping others.

Great leaders care more about making others better than being comfortable.

Great leaders care more about making others better than making others like them.

Leaders are willing to be disliked, mocked, and mistreated; for the sake of others.

Don’t avoid conflict.


“Trust is knowing that when a team member does push you, they’re doing it because they care about the team. Great teams do not hold back with one another. They are unafraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear of reprisal. When there is trust, conflict becomes nothing but the pursuit of truth, an attempt to find the best possible answer. The fear of conflict is almost always a sign of problems.”

- Patrick Lencioni


If you avoid conflict, you will have shallow relationships. Accountability breeds intimacy because intimacy happens in discomfort. It’s uncomfortable to tell someone something hard, but it deepens the bond and trust you have. A lot of our relationships and teams are shallow because we are scared to be uncomfortable. Confrontation leads to deeper relationships.

What happens if someone takes what you say the wrong way? You will probably be disliked. Lead anyways. Leaders allow themselves to be misunderstood and called mean; for the sake of the other person. If you want to be a great leader, understand it’s not about you, it’s about others.

What will you do about the gap?

When you see a gap between your teammates’ behavior and the team’s standards, what will you do?

Will you remain quiet for the sake of your own comfort? Will you look the other way so you don’t have to have an uncomfortable conversation? Will you avoid conflict in an attempt to be a people-pleaser?


Will you lead? Will you speak up for the sake of the other person? Will you hold others accountable to the team’s standards? Will you risk discomfort and being misunderstood to make others better?

In the wise words of Brene Brown, “Choose courage over comfort.”

When you avoid confrontation, you are saying, “This doesn’t really matter that much to me.” Confrontation says “You matter to me and this matters to me enough to confront you about this.”

Accountability is actually one of the kindest things you could ever do to someone. Accountability says, “I care about you enough to not let you settle for mediocrity.” If someone says, “I think you’re better than that. You’re capable of more.” You should be grateful that someone sees something greater in you. Raising the standards and holding others accountable to them is the highest form of love. If you care about someone, you tell them the truth.

The success of the team hinges on leadership. Are you trying to be liked and feel good, or are you trying to facilitate growth?

If you just want to be liked and stay comfortable, you won’t get great results. If you're trying to facilitate growth, you will be willing to pay the price of being disliked, misunderstood, and uncomfortable.

Say what you want about the Bulls’ culture, but if you watched The Last Dance, you know their comradery was undeniable, and they got results. The mark of a great team is not the absence of conflict. If there’s no conflict, there’s avoidance and there’s a lack of honesty, which also means there’s a lack of comradery.

Winning comes at a price and leadership comes at a price. The price is confrontation, tough conversations, discomfort, being disliked, being resented,

The ultimate challenge of leadership is allowing yourself to be misunderstood and disliked, for the sake of holding others accountable to the team’s standards.

It’s a big sacrifice, but that’s the price of leadership. That’s the price of winning. Pay the price.


Written by Julie Fournier

Founder & CEO of Basketball is Psychology


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