LeBron James, Leadership & Innovation

Anyone who is a fan of the NBA will know that June spells the business end of the season.

It's Finals time - and currently two of the best teams in the league are engaged in a neck-and-neck battle to see who will emerge victorious. A few years back, The San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat were providing a thrilling playoff series, yet one of the players was receiving a disproportionately high amount of media attention, with analysts dissecting each shot, pass and cut he made. That player is LeBron James.

LeBron is a polarising player, with all NBA fans having a strong opinion about his character and his talent. Yet, it cannot be denied that his persona has transcended the sport itself, with many non-basketball fans being aware of LeBron's legacy. In a sport that is fundamentally about a team and their performance - it is surprising to see the amount of fame and debate that LeBron has surrounding him.

A closer look at LeBron and his leadership will also reveal a brilliant insight about creativity and innovation.

LeBron is a vocal leader, encouraging and exhorting his team-mates to compete to the utmost of their ability. In Game 5 of the series, LeBron could be seen (and heard) leading the half-time huddle, repeatedly urging for "More" from his team - more rebounds, more defense, more hustle. However, LeBron does not simply talk - he embodies the leadership he espouses.

US sports are full of statistics, and the NBA is no exception. One relatively new statistic is the Player Impact Estimate (PIE), which measures a player's overall statistical contribution against the total statistics in every game they play in. In simple terms - this shows how much of an impact a player has on the score, rebounds, steals, assists, blocks - a mixture of the flashy offense as well as the nitty-gritty defense.

Who was leading the league in 2013?

LeBron James, with an outstanding 21.6% PIE. Fundamentally, this means that LeBron sees it as his job to contribute in every area of the game. More than just winning fans with a jaw-dropping dunk, LeBron will impact on rebounds and turnovers (areas that require physical strength and determination), as well as assists (helping your team-mates perform better). This shows that LeBron embodies his call for "More" - speaking it, and then modeling it those around him.

In 2001, chemical engineer and innovation expert Jack Hipple investigated twenty corporations that were once considered 'Centers of Innovation', yet had fallen from their high innovative perch. In his analysis, Hipple discovered that the common thread between all these failed innovators was the lack of ongoing innovative leadership. For an innovative organisation to survive, the absolute requirement is reliable and solid involvement and support from the highest levels of leadership.

Too often, I have observed organisations where innovation is talked about as a value - but is not modeled as an action by the leadership. Many corporations agree that innovation is essential to growth and competition, yet their actions do not measure to their words.

Team members will always follow a leader's actions over their words, leading in a confused organisation that will never achieve the exciting potential that is possible.

If you are a leader - in any shape in your organisation - consider changing your actions to reflect the value you place on innovation. For example - how much is budgeted towards innovative experiments and discovery - both in terms of time and money? Do you actively collect, encourage and actualise creative ideas from all levels of your organisation? Do you have a small innovative project that you can dedicate time to each week?

Reflect on these questions, and honestly reflect on your actions. Consider new ways that you could embody innovation to the team that surrounds you.