Kobe Bryant, the newly retired star of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team, had a successful 20-year pro career. Drafted straight from high school to join the NBA as a 17-year old, Bryant had to juggle the sudden fame, wealth, and responsibility that comes with being a leader-in-the-making in his profession. It was a road that he did not always navigate well, but he admits in reflection of the life lessons he has learned along the way.
Kobe just wrote a brief article as a letter to his younger self for The Player’s Tribune. In it, he gives his life’s lesson on why it’s better to invest in people you want to help instead of giving it to them. Here are the highlights that we can learn from Kobe on how to build people for the better by investing in them:
Invest is different than give. No one expects a return when they give, but everyone expects a return on an investment. Bryant’s emphasis on INVEST means to cultivate others to produce fruit. Putting time and resources into people as an investment into them means you’re helping them produce fruit at some point down the road.
Helping should not hold people back. Why do so many lottery winners have worse lives after hitting the jackpot? Because they didn’t appreciate the effort that went into earning and growing. It’s like the baby chick trying to hatch from an egg – if you break the shell open for them they die soon afterwards; their strength to survive is gained by the struggle to hatch and start their own life. Help others in a way that propels them forward.
Help others for themselves, not for yourself. Many times we want to help because of some emotional void it helps us to fill. This is an inverted thought process that starts with self and factors in others afterwards. True care and concern for helping others is to fully put themselves first without regard for yourself, in true servant-leadership fashion.
Think of the future, not of the here and now. Our best intentions can be very short sighted. We live in an age of daily compulsion, strife to get through the day, and what to do to make ourselves feel good when we get through it. Instead or mortgaging our future for the relative victories today, we need to focus on the long game and how to best meet other’s needs (not wants) to give them a more purposeful life.
“Use your success, wealth, and influence” to put people in the best position possible. This is one of Bryant’s best quotes. What you have to offer – time, money, talent, wisdom, influence – should set people up to succeed. Your resources and the fruit of your labors should be a blessing (and not a curse) to others. Getting others to get to a point of self-sufficiency and growth – even through times of failure – will empower them to attain sustainable success, achieve goals, and perpetuate investing in others through the by-product of their talents and resources. Use yourself to pay it forward.
Create independent people, not addicted people. The proverbial saying “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach him to fish, and he eats for a lifetime” is echoed through Kobe’s words here. Our businesses, industries, society, families, and world are best served by independent folks who work towards the betterment of others and not seeking after their own interests and wants continuously. Investing is not a bail-out, it’s sowing a powerful seed for everyone’s future.
Set things up right early on. Whether during the early days of childhood or start-up days for a business, establishing these habits is crucial. But regardless of whether it was done early or now, Bryant shows and urgency to do it now. Today is not too late, it is the day to start investing in people to propel future leaders and generations to take the lessons KObe learned and impact as many as we can during the time we have.
Invest heavily in others. The value you place on people, and the resources given to them, will help them to gain a value of themselves and others, and an appreciation for stewardship of your talents ans gifts.
With the wealth of information and advice on how to become better leaders, it can be very tempting to assimilate all types of styles and behaviors and lose yourself in the process.
We have a tendency to look at our weaknesses and focus on growing those areas, leaving our unique gifts and strengths to be lost in the process. Think for instance the new leader, or even the young child, who tries to hard to be someone they’re not by emulating their boss or parent. Many times they have someone pull them aside and say “Relax, just be yourself.”
So how can you blend personal development and stay true to who you are? The balance lies in these key steps:
- Know yourself. Take a few minutes and write down what you enjoy and what you feel your strengths are. Write down what people say you’re good at as well. These are your strengths that you need to play to. They are what makes you unique and gives a point of differentiation you have that no one else does. Develop those strong points daily, and use them to showcase your talents and calling.
- Identify your growth areas, but keep them in moderation. Find 3-5 areas you’d like to grow, then develop a plan for improvement. Don’t make this the core focus of your development plan. Instead, incorporate those items into your daily routine – whether through mentoring, reading, listening, or taking 5 minutes for thinking and reflection. Don’t allow yourself to be consumed by them. Your biggest impact will be strengthening your core traits above, while smoothing out the rough and weak spots. The goal is to create a balance within yourself and improve holistically.
- Don’t strive for other’s approval to the exclusion of self. Just like the child seeking mom or dad’s attention by being a trouble-maker, don’t allow others to dictate your growth trajectory. Be authentic to yourself and not what others want you to be. That said, the best way to get other’s approval is to bring a unique value to the team in everything you do. By creating quality work that only you can provide, you will gain other’s notice through your ability to be trustworthy, productive, and relatable.
- Beware of labels and generalizing yourself. DISC and Meyers-Briggs assessments are great tools, but we can easily fall prey to the “I’m a high ‘D”” or “I’m an ESTJ” and lose ourselves in the grading system. If we default our strengths or weak areas to a score, we tend to excuse it away and justify behaviors without growing. If you are a high “I” or an INFP, then use that as a basis for self-awareness and development. In addition, try to view every situation from the eyes of those whose personalities and works styles are different from yours. Getting out of yourself in order to better develop yourself is the best way to grow as a leader.
- Don’t think you have to master every skill. Leadership traits are numerous; do you have a high kinesthetic, emotional quotient, connectivity, deep network, or even a great smile? No one will ever master every skill set, so don’t wear yourself out trying to be everything for everyone. The more you can devote a balanced growth plan to get stronger in your core areas and prioritize your opportunity areas, the more you’ll be free to really grow and not be overwhelmed in doing everything. Even Ben Franklin overlooked his 13th virtue of Humility from time to time. Keep your development manageable to the degree that you can be successful and feel fulfilled in where you are growing.
Remember, only you have the unique blend of talents that can impact your sphere of influence. Work hard to grow, but balance that out with the realistic and relaxed approaches mentioned above.