Leadership Lessons from a Four-Time WNBA Championship Team

 

I went to Game 5 of the WNBA Finals a couple of weeks ago to keep tabs on my Minnesota Lynx and make sure they won the 2017 WNBA Championship. They did. You’re welcome. I had goosebumps from the minute we got our seats. Pretty sure my deodorant stopped working, so I tweeted about it. I almost chewed a hole in the giveaway shirt we got because a score that close in the last two minutes is not my favorite thing. I was able to breathe once there were 57 seconds left in the game and the Lynx were ahead by nine points. And really, I just wanted the Lynx to not even get close to any of the Sparks players because they are… something. The timeouts were killin’ me because listen. You are down by that many points? It’s not gonna happen and you’re just prolonging my high blood pressure from going back to a somewhat normal state. Okay – Lynx won. I was stressed out and trying to distract myself during the FIVE BILLION unnecessary timeouts and really terrible halftime show, so, you know, I was thinkin’ about HR-type stuff. (Shut up.  I love it.)

Backstory for my non-WNBA friends: Lindsay Whalen is my favorite WNBA player, possibly my favorite athlete. She’s a 13 year veteran point guard of the WNBA, graduated from the University of Minnesota, got drafted by the Connecticut Sun, came back home to the Minnesota Lynx in 2010 and now has four championship rings. That’s the short story. Even shorter story: she’s a true leader in every since of the world. She’s not the taller player, the best shooter, or the fastest runner, but she doesn’t have to be. She just knows how all those things work together well and where she fits into the mix.

Here’s my favorite example over the course of the WNBA Finals: Game 4. Lynx are down 2-1 in the series. They lose again, they lose the Finals. Not an option for Whalen. 1:30 into the game and she flattens the Sparks point guard to put an end to a fast break and gets a flagrant foul called. The Sparks hit both their free throws. Didn’t matter. The energy that Whalen fueled by putting the stop to that play sent the Lynx into a place where they desperately needed to be and it sent the Sparks into the opposite direction. The Lynx won.

You’re thinking I’m just telling you this story because I like reliving the mental picture of Whalen clothes-lining another point guard. You’re half right. The other reason is because it’s a pretty great example of how a leader can let other people focus on their jobs while figuring out how to  make things better in ways that other people aren’t focusing on.

I don’t think anyone else on the team knew how to get that energy back, including the coach. They knew the gist of how to win a game: play hard, score points, shift the momentum, all those sportsing things. But Whalen knew that something had to give, and I’m pretty sure the court gave a little bit when that other player hit the floor. Not the most orthodox approach, but one that was worth trying because nothing else was working. And it did.

This isn’t a personal story or a work story. It’s a combo of two of my most favorite things and it’s an observation of what an amazing, hard working, in the trenches leader looks like from a different perspective. And it was awesome.

The Robots are Coming. And They Might Bring Dennis Rodman.

They are. And as soon as they get here, there won’t be a need for people to work in HR departments. The robots have it under control and it will be glorious. (I’ve mentioned I speak fluent sarcasm, right?) There was a pretty great discussion about the shift of Artificial Intelligence into the Human Resource arena last week via the #NextChat twitter stream. The recap is on the SHRM blog if you’re really into that kinda thing.

The ATM just celebrated it’s 50th anniversary and there are now zero banks left in the world, thanks to John Shepherd-Barron. (FYI: The first one was at Barclays, which is the same company that’s installing sensors to see how often their employees are at their desks.) Robots have taken control of all of our money and will distribute it as the data sees fit. Please do not make eye contract with Robot Cashman. His infrared eyeballs will blind you and then turn you into a robot, too, which is actually pretty beneficial because then you’ll have a job!

The self-checkout made it’s appearance into the world back in the 1980s by a dude named David Humble. And since then, retail stores haven’t hired anyone at all because the machines are ALL OVER IT. You see those robots at Target all the time asking me if I’m finding everything okay six times in 20 minutes, making sure I have a RedCard so I can save 5% and stocking those damn end caps in such a beautiful, beautiful way that I want to buy everything.

Listen. I say this in jest, but it’s a fear that I’m pretty sure everyone has either felt or heard someone talk about at some point in their life. Probably 10 or 11 years ago, my BFF chastised me for using a self checkout at a grocery story because it would take away the cashier’s job. My bestie is not a conspiracy theory wackadoodle. My point in sharing what might embarrass her is this: IT’S OKAY TO BE NERVOUS.

Humans still need humans. That’s why I married my wife and not my quesadilla maker. The only thing that’s going to change is how those interactions happen. If I’m at my credit union and I need cash, but notice there’s a giant line in front me, I’m probably going to opt for the ATM in the lobby. But if I’m at my credit union (side note: here’s why you should join a credit union and ditch your big bank) and I need to figure out if I can get a better rate on my car loan, I’m going to talk to someone about it and I’m cool if the line is a little longer. A person is going to understand my situation much better than something that relies solely on artificial intelligence.

That works for HR, too. We’ll use AI to make sure we’re continuing to improve an applicant’s process, provide quicker responses to employee questions about their benefits or payroll and all that predictive analysis stuff that sounds super duper cool and helpful. But we’ll still use humans to do things like celebrate an employee’s 25th anniversary in a meaningful way, send an email to someone that works miles and miles away with a link to an article that reminded you of them, and spend more time developing, and, most importantly, take all the information we get from AI to make the workplace even better. See? It’s a gonna be a win for all us HR practitioners out there and we can’t be scared of it.

Dennis Rodman joined the Chicago Bulls back in 1995. He wasn’t much different in the 90s than he is now, minus palling around with Kim Jong-un. He wore dresses. He had a lot of tattoos. He punched a lot of people. I would imagine some of those championship level NBA players and coaches, along with millions of bandwagon Bulls were pretty terrified of that dude. He very well could have clocked Michael Jordan right in the face the very first day he walked into practice. But he didn’t. He was amazing and he helped the Bulls win three more NBA championships in a row.

See? It’s a gonna be a win for all us HR practitioners out there and we can’t be scared of it. If the greatest NBA player of all time (that’s Michael Jordan for you people that were incorrectly thinking Lebron what’s his name) can adapt to something scary and win some championships, then we can adapt to an addition to our daily lives that’s going to make us better, too.

What if we didn’t wait around in the locker room for AI to show up and throw his stuff in the locker next to ours? What kind of value could we bring our entire organizations if we proactively brought a case to our executive teams surrounding the benefits AI could bring from a business standpoint?

Embracing Twodolla

For years, I’ve had the internal debate on my twitter handle. It’s @twodolla. Pretty professional, yeah? To be completely fair, when I first started using Twitter, it was when you had to text in what you wanted to tweet to 40404 and you had to manually count those 140 characters. And when I start using Twitter, it was usually happening at the bar after shots and 2-for-1s. Now that I think about it, Twitter was just kinda for nerds back when it rolled out. It definitely wasn’t used by, oh, HR people or CEOs or those kind of folks. And, let me tell you, I was pretty good at it. Some real riveting content.

 

Backing up 10 more years before Twitter even started and blogging was just barely a thing is when twodolla came to be. You can read that story here. The whole thing stemmed from my days of working in a pizza delivery restaurant, where my buddy Kevin and I used to blast this song and dance around like fools anytime we worked together. (You’re welcome for this.)

 

And it stuck.

I tried dual tweeting for a while. Locking one down to private mode and using it for personal stuff and then having one with my whole name in it and using it for professional stuff, but that’s hard to do, man. You logout from one when you go to a conference you’re pretty sure your “normal” friends would have no interest in, tweet all about HR-related stuff that you’re completely geeked about. And then you forget to logout of your professional one and start tweeting to those people about your crush on a bartender and things get real weird, real fast. (I’m also kinda lazy, so this could just be me.)

I posted somewhere – probably Facebook or Twitter, but I don’t remember exactly where – not too long ago about trying to come to a decision on what I should do about my Twitter handle as I got more and more involved in tweeting about professional stuff. I contemplated using my name, but the same person that uses @wendyberry also owns wendyberry.com.au, which means I get a LOT of her email, including credit card invoices, random family holiday pictures, etc. Maybe that means she would be willing to give it up considering she hasn’t tweeted since 2011, but I have better things to do.

In the midst of my social media whining about this silly sort of drama, someone I really admire when it comes the whole grownup business lady world, Nancy Lyons, set me straight. I’m paraphrasing because I don’t where I’d originally posted it, but it was something like this: Knock it off. It’s part of your story and that’s what makes you you. (Sorry for completely botching whatever you said whenever you said it, Nancy…)

So here I am. If you search for “two dolla”, the first thing that shows up in Google is an awesome definition in the Urban Dictionary. The second is a scene from the movie Better Off Dead, the third is the Wikipedia entry for a two dollar bill and the fourth is my original personal blog. I’d say I’ve hit the big time, you guys, so why give up who I am now just because I’m almost all grown up, right?

It’s kind of like work life balance. It doesn’t exist. It’s just life balance. Well, sometimes there isn’t a black and white when it comes to personal and professional. If there was, I don’t think I’d like myself very much as a “professional”. I mean, look at me now – I’m blogging about my work life on a Saturday night while my son is singing a song that apparently has a line in it that goes “Where is Daddy? Where is Daddy?”