Playing to Win: Lessons from Kobe Bryant

COMMUNICATION, Penny ZenkerLeave a Comment

Playing to Win Lessons from Kobe Bryant

The world has known many great leaders and many people who have shown leadership qualities even if they aren’t in traditional positions of power. One of those examples is Kobe Bryant. Recently lost in a tragic helicopter accident; the world is reeling with the loss of not only a basketball legend, but a hero to many for his commitment to discipline and success without giving into excuses and distractions. He was a true leader of our time because he leads by example. This is rare. Most people don’t walk their talk. In everything he did, Kobe was playing to win.

“I'll do whatever it takes to win games, whether it's sitting on a bench waving a towel, handing a cup of water to a teammate, or hitting the game-winning shot. Click To Tweet

He knew “Playing to Win” was not just about him, he was a team player. Great leaders know when to lead and when to follow or support. He believed in going above and beyond for the team on and off the court.

Some say the fact that he started to play basketball at the age of 3 is what made him a champion. However, make no mistake, his mindset made him a champion. There are so many people with great raw talent that never become champions, leaders, or great motivators because they were missing the part that defines a champion. Mindset.

“Everything negative – pressure, challenges – is all an opportunity for me to rise.” -Kobe Bryant Click To Tweet

Kobe died much too young, he had so much more to accomplish and teach us. He inspired so many around the world. Kobe Bryant was a true leader to so many people for so many reasons, it’s important to learn from everything that he taught us.

Kobe Bryant on Leadership and success

We all know that Kobe is well known for his impressive stats and history in the NBA and was certainly successful with his leadership on the court. However, in a more general sense, he also had a lot to say as far as leadership and success.

In a lockerroom pep talk for the University of Alabama football team, Kobe told the players that one thing changed him from a player to a leader was listening. Not just listening to what is being said but in observation. Listening and observing is part of “Playing to Win”, it creates connection, trust and perspective.

His opinion was that it didn’t matter what you wanted to do with your life or career, a true leader was someone who could help inspire those around them to do whatever they wanted to do, and be whomever they wanted to be. A leader is someone who motivates those around them to be the best that they can be no matter what and to be proud of what they have accomplished.

“The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great in whatever they want to do.” -Kobe Bryant Click To Tweet

Success was also something that he spoke about at length. His perspective was that success wasn’t always about shooting the winning basket or playing the “best” on the court. He was also all about being successful as a teammate. Sometimes success was as simple as cheering on his team members or playing a more supportive role. Playing to win isn’t just about yourself and being the best player on the court, playing to win is about the team. Working together as a team to reach the objectives- even if those objectives are not met, the team can be proud of their discipline, effort, and support for one another. They can learn and grow from what is working or not working as a team and collaboratively work hard to achieve the objective.

Similarly, he also said that as long as you keep your eye on the prize, give it your dedicated focus, you’ll get there. You’ll go through hard times and struggles that will really test your commitment to getting to your definition of success (however you define it), but you will get there if you really give it your all and stay focused.

One of the leadership programs I went through says “Trust the Process”. If you focus on your goal and do the work – Trust the Process – you will get there. When you get there, it shouldn’t really be a surprise when you arrive, because you did everything in your power to get you there!

Kobe Bryant on Discipline

Kobe Bryant also had a lot to say about getting to your goals and the process that one needs to go through. If you discipline yourself and stay on-course, you can do anything that you set your mind to. Discipline is a key factor in success and reaching your goals. Kobe said he made choices and sacrifices and that is what you have to do when you want to create excellence. He never regretted making sacrifices, this is what he wanted. You have to be clear.

“If you want to be great at something, there’s a choice you have to make. What I mean by that is, there are inherent sacrifices that come along with that. Family time, hanging out with friends, being a great friend, being a great son,… Click To Tweet

There will be days where the whole world is trying to tear you down. However, when you work hard and give your best to stay positive about yourself and your limitations, you can be the most powerful person in the world. It is an inner game first.

Kobe would say discipline will give you the results that you want and need, even if it isn’t necessarily in the way that you predicted. There is no substitute for hard work, and there is no tool more powerful than hard work.

Kobe Bryant was all about pushing limits and challenging the status quo. If you focus on what you are able to do, that will always be enough. When he was hiring someone for a project, he didn’t want to hire people who knew they could do it, he wanted to hire people that said they didn’t know if they could do it. He believed that curiosity, determination to solve, and passion for pushing the limits would generate the creativity and innovation to find the result. He was all about pushing the limits not just for himself, but for those around him too. How could he inspire that in them? He set the example.

Discipline yourself to be all in and play to win in whatever it is that you are doing. If you aren’t all in, maybe it’s a good idea to be all out. De-commit from actions, activities, and people that don’t lead you to a higher purpose or challenge you to be your best. Life is too short and tomorrow is not promised.

His legacy will not be lost, especially when you honor him by putting his teachings into practice. Play to win in everything you do.

“The moment you give up, is the moment you let someone else win.” -Kobe Bryant Click To Tweet

Here are a number of quotes from Kobe Bryant to further inspire you:

“Everything negative – pressure, challenges – is all an opportunity for me to rise.” -Kobe Bryant

“Winning takes precedence overall. There’s no gray area. No almosts.” -Kobe Bryant

“These young guys are playing checkers. I’m out there playing chess.” -Kobe Bryant

“I don’t want to be the next Michael Jordan, I only want to be Kobe Bryant.” -Kobe Bryant

“There’s been a lot of talk of me being a one-man show but that’s simply not the case. We win games when I score 40 points and we’ve won when I score 10.” -Kobe Bryant

I found these at goalcast:

“Once you know what failure feels like, determination chases success.” -Kobe Bryant

“I realized that intimidation didn’t really exist if you’re in the right frame of mind.” -Kobe Bryant

“I’m reflective only in the sense that I learn to move forward. I reflect with a purpose.” -Kobe Bryant

“It’s the one thing you can control. You are responsible for how people remember you—or don’t. So don’t take it lightly.” -Kobe Bryant

Here are some great quotes I found in the LA Times article with references of when he said them.

“Those times when you get up early and you work hard, those times when you stay up late and you work hard, those times when you don’t feel like working, you’re too tired, you don’t want to push yourself, but you do it anyway. That is actually the dream. That’s the dream. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. And if you guys can understand that, then what you’ll see happen is you won’t accomplish your dreams, your dreams won’t come true; something greater will.” From his jersey retirement speech, 2017

“We psyche ourselves up too much. Like if you try to talk yourself into, ‘Oh, this is a big moment, this is a big shot,’ you’re putting a lot of pressure on yourself. You shot that shot hundreds and thousands of times. Just shoot another one.” On “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” 2018

“Be sad. Be mad. Be frustrated. Scream. Cry. Sulk. When you wake up you will think it was just a nightmare only to realize it’s all too real. You will be angry and wish for the day back, the game back, THAT playback. But reality gives nothing back and nor should you.” Instagram post following Gordon Hayward injury, 2017

I have a Keynote and workshop around the topic of Playing to Win and teach leadership and engagement for high performing teams. I help teams get clear what it means to Play to win and what are the other stages..”Playing Not to Lose” or “Just Playing”. Getting clear on what it means at each level and making a fresh commitment to the mission and the team can take your team to the next level.

Message me when you want to connect with me further on the topic.

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