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Leadership Lesson: Throw Team Under Bus – Get Kicked to Curb

Leadership Lesson: Throw Team Under Bus – Get Kicked to Curb

You may not know it, based upon my TV habits this season, but I am a Denver Nuggets fan. Because I value teamwork over star power, I especially enjoyed how George Karl led the Nuggets to their most wins in a season – without having a bonafide star. George Karl won Coach of the Year that year, but another first round exit – coupled with his desire for a contract extension – resulted in the Nuggets firing my favorite coach.

The Nuggets then bring in Brian Shaw, and I did not like the choice. I would have chosen Nate McMillan or Byron Scott because they had proven success at the professional level. I always thought Brian Shaw just rode the right coattails with the Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic, and LA Lakers (which had Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and Phil Jackson). My disappointment turned to dismay when I witnessed how often Brian Shaw threw his team under the bus. In fact, one sports writer pointed out: Shaw has thrown enough players under the bus to raise it high enough to change the tires on it. What goes around comes around, and Brian Shaw learned a valuable Leadership Lesson: Throw Team Under Bus – Get Kicked to Curb.

Brian Shaw was fired on March 3, 2015. He took the core of a team that won 57 games for a 69% winning percentage – to 44% the next year and 36% in his final year. Here are three key issues that led to his demise

1. He changed team identify – without changing players

The Denver Nuggets won without a star because they embraced a team concept and depth. They could run teams out of the building – especially at a Mile High. Two of their biggest and fastest weapons in this style of basketball – Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried – were hamstrung by Shaw trying to enforce a Michael Jordan style triangle offense in a half-court set. The entire team not only looked lost and clueless at times; they also looked frustrated. And some Nuggets fans turned off the TV simply because the Nuggets were losing – and losing while playing a boring style of basketball that did not captivate the fan base.

Leadership Lesson: Which is easier – to adapt the mindset of an individual head coach or to adapt the mindset, and skill set, of 12 individual team members? The best leaders are the agile leaders capable of adapting to the circumstances to get the best results.

2. He alienated the players

How long would you stay with an employer if your boss threw you under the bus at every opportunity? Brian Shaw basically jumped straight to Letter #2 – blame your employees – because it is hard to blame your predecessor when the guy won 69% of his games and was named Coach of the Year! And NBA players do not have the option of simply quitting and finding employment with another team. Some people will justifiably point to the lack of professionalism of the Nuggets players, because you could tell they were tanking on games vs putting forth maximum effort, but it is hard to play for a leader who not only berates you behind closed doors…but also voices his frustration in public forums. This was not a single incident – I count at least (5) times I shared news stories on my Facebook timeline because Shaw threw his team under the bus, and it was starting to become a nightly ritual.

Leadership Lesson: How many successful leaders do you know who routinely throw their teams under the bus? I’ve been a consultant for most of my career, and you can quickly identify the positive morale of teams run by competent, encouraging, empowering leaders – and the negative morale of teams run by resume-padding, back-stabbing, “throw the team under the bus” leaders. And here is an important hint: superstar performers will ALWAYS have the option of leaving for a better opportunity and work environment. If these bad leaders are not identified and removed, you will ultimately end up with teams of emotionally drained, sub-par performers who are not competent enough – or brave enough – to find a better job.

3. He lost the fan base

I already mentioned that I quit watching the Nuggets early in the season. The style of play wasn’t suited to the players, and they looked hapless and lethargic at times. If I shared my frustrations on Facebook, several “Nuggets faithful” were quick to pile on with their own frustrations. #FireBrianShaw became a very popular hashtag in the Denver area. And can you tell which day, from the Pulse Analytics screenshot below, had frustrations boiling over to the point where Shaw was fired?

Brian Shaw shows bad leadership by throwing team under the bus


Some bad leaders get away with throwing their team under the bus because they have an ace under their sleeve: Management is on their side. One way to sway management opinion is to negatively impact the bottom line. The 2015 Nuggets fans’ attitudes ranged from apathy to outright hostility. It is hard to sell concessions, jerseys, and season tickets in an empty stadium with sub-standard product quality on the basketball floor.

Leadership Lesson: When it comes to building a fan base, start with your own team members. Effort, morale, and quality will all be higher when team members know they have teammates and leaders who “have their backs”. Lose that fan base, and you will lose management support. You can then start preparing your 3rd letter!

Business Note: If you are looking for social listening to measure the sentiment of your fan base on social channels and review sites, or if you are looking for a solution provider to assist your organization with agile transformation that leads to team and company success, give me a shout. ProKarma may have a solution for you!

Photo Credit: Crash 11 by Mike Smail on Flickr via Creative Commons

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Brian Vickery

I love my Vickery Girls - and grandsons! My career has blessed me to the point I was able to start a new consultancy in 2018: Analytic Integrity. I look to provide analytic experience, and business integrity, to an Analytics world while helping data-driven organizations mature. I enjoy teaching and coaching, watching football and basketball, and playing tennis. I graduated UT-Austin.

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