Leadership Advice From An NBA Legend: Be A T.E.A.M. Player

I recently visited the offices of the Boston Celtics for a face-to-face interview with NBA legend JoJo White and Jay Wessel, Vice President of Technology for the Boston Celtics. Jay Wessel is responsible for strategy, implementation and management of Technology for the Boston Celtics including IT, Coaching and Scouting, Broadcast, Event, Data/Voice Communications, Audio/Video and Construction. Jay joined the Celtics in 1990.

JoJo White was a member of the gold medal winning U.S. Olympic team in 1968. White was drafted in the first round by the Boston Celtics in 1969 where he led the team to two NBA championships (1974 and 1976). He was named the 1976 NBA Finals MVP and was a seven-time NBA All-Star. The Boston Celtics retried White's jersey number (10) in 1982.

White, recently featured in the book, "Make It Count, The Life and Times of Basketball Great, JoJo White", holds the franchise record for playing 488 consecutive games, making him a true role model for what it takes to be successful in life, sports and business. "Make it Count", hint's to the secret of White's success in his athletic career - a career that was the product of genuine good values. In talking with White, we learned a few of the secrets to his great success and how CIOs and other business leaders can apply these principles off the court to achieve business success.

Leadership Success: Be a T.E.A.M. player

T. Teamwork

There is no "I" in "TEAM"? White says that the sooner you figure this out, the sooner the game becomes a lot easier to play. The first step to creating a winning team is to understand how to put the right people together. The next step is for the individual team members to learn how to use their unique talent, in a way that will benefit the other members.
No matter if you are running with the ball or running a new project, Wessel agrees that working as a team is important, especially in technology. "What makes my job exciting is working with the other groups in the organization and discovering how they want to do their job and then building the systems to help them do it," said Wessel.

White says that even during the hardest times the team dynamic helped keep him going. For him those times came after playing back-to-back high profile games which left him drained physically and mentally. "Because you are part of a team you are reminded that you are not the only one playing and that there are others all doing the same thing," said White.

E. Everyone gets to play

Pass the ball! As a player, White recalled how he always shared the ball. It's all about involving your teammates with what you're doing and keeping everybody's head in the game. "If I take off and start running and I never pass you the ball, pretty soon you are going to stop running with me," says White, "but if I share the ball I will see teammates waiting in the wings because they know they are going to get the ball back." The sharing rule equally applies to enterprises. By sharing information or ideas, all team members stay engaged, and the organization wins.

As a CMO, I can certainly attest to this. When our CIO walks into a marketing staff meeting and brings in a new company or technology, he is passing me the ball and helping me to be successful. Wessel does the same thing by collaborating with other departments, and providing "assists" to help them be successful. A prime example of this is a new CRM system which is currently being evaluated by a cross-functional group. And even after Wessel goes off and does the implementation, it does not end there. He hands it back to the business to see if it helps them to do their job. It's a joint effort.
At the Celtics, the technology goes hand-in-hand with the other business functions and with the players on the basketball side. When the players wanted access to the video clips that were specifically relevant to them, Wessel's team delivers. Today, Wessel is delivering these player-specific digital clips to each Celtic player immediately after each game.

A. Adore what you do
Whether you are on the court or in the boardroom, both White and Wessel agree - you need to be passionate about what you are doing. In, "Make It Count," we learn how as a young man White "adored" basketball so much that he made his own hoop. In our interview he explained how he couldn't ask his parents to buy him a hoop, so in order to have the opportunity to work on his game every day he built his own. His passion, combined with his intense self-motivation, propelled him to overcome any obstacle that would come between him and his love of the sport.

So, if an NBA All-Star needs to adore basketball to be successful, does that mean that a CIO needs to adore technology to be successful? Wessel, who has brought 23 years of technology and innovation to the most storied franchise in basketball thinks so. According to Wessel, "You can't do anything you don't adore, you have to be passionate about it." Even from the time Wessel was a young boy he said that when he grew up he was "going to build computers."

Well that he did, and so much more. As Celtics CIO, Wessel is dealing with many different aspects of technology such as wireless, mobile and analytics. To compete with home game viewing on HDTVs, a big area of focus for pro-sports is improving the game day experience through the use of wireless and mobile to bring fans all the comforts of home viewing and more. As a panelist at our recent CIO Mobility and Innovation Summit at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, Wessel shared how the Celtics have found many ways to deliver this experience, such as the use of a new Celtics-owned mobile app that offers fans things they can't get from home. Wessel uses analytics both from the "big data" side to collect information from ticket sales, mobile users, Facebook, etc. and also from the basketball side, where homegrown basketball analytics software has been collecting stats on every play for well over a decade! This data has been crucial to helping the team improve their game and gain an edge over the competition.

M. Maintain a winning attitude

Fame can be fleeting, but it is the legacy of your character that is sustained over time. And White's character of hard work and determination and conducting himself with dignity and determination is an inspiration to us. White's advice: "Maintain a positive attitude (even in the face of adversity) by knowing that you are doing the very best you can do and by doing those things being asked of you, and, if there's room, do some extra things as well."

A positive attitude, combined with openness to innovation will put you on the path to becoming a CIO team player. I recently wrote about "10 Ways to Become a CIO Plus" which is another how CIOs can become team MVPs. Wessel says that in the past CIOs got a bad rap for saying "no" a lot of the time. In his role of CIO he tries to take a step back and embrace new technology in an effort to be open to innovation. He says, "Infrastructure should be a tool and not an end game." Thanks to networking systems that provide automation he is able to spend less time on infrastructure and more time figuring out how to use technology to the benefit of the business.

A closing question in our interview came from a member of our Twitter audience who wanted to know what player in the history of the NBA White would want to play with. White's answer may not surprise you: "I would have loved to have played with Magic Johnson. Magic was truly a team player. He could motivate all of his teammates individually, and it made him a better player."

In summary, the secret to the success of any individual or any organization - from across the court to across the organization - is no "magic". It all comes down to one, simple question... Are you a team player?

You can watch the full video interview with JoJo White and Jay Wessel here. Please join me and Michael Krigsman every Friday at 4pm as we host CXOTalk, as we connect with thought leaders and innovative executives who are pushing the boundaries within their companies and their fields.