Why You Should Care That The Cleveland Cavaliers Fired Their Coach, Even If You Don’t Care About Basketball

The professional basketball league (NBA) is about halfway through their 82 game regular season.  The #1 ranked team in the Eastern Conference is the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Last season’s Eastern Conference Champions, the Cavs currently have a record of 30 wins and 11 losses.

On Friday, they fired their head coach, David Blatt.   Yes, you read that right.  Blatt’s team is in first place, and he lost his job.How is this relevant to leadership?

At an annual conference last week, I listened to the COO of a Fortune 25 company speak to his top 150 leaders. (Let’s call the COO Bill.)

Bill said:The way we do business has fundamentally transformed.  With the advent of new technology and the ever increasing rate of change and innovation, we can no longer afford to find ourselves on a burning platform.  The companies that wind up on a burning platform are done.  The challenge in this competitive landscape is to predict where the potential burning platform will be 6 months or a year from now, and course correct now, so we never wind up on the platform in the first place.The Cavaliers General Manager, David Griffin, was the one who made the decision to fire Blatt.  At a news conference, Griffin said:

“Sometimes you can win games in this league in the regular season and get worse.  We were regressing over a period of time. I’m in our locker room a lot, and I knew that there’s just a disconnect there right now. There’s a lack of spirit and connectedness that I just couldn’t accept. And frankly, halfway through the season, I think we have the time to right the ship. I know that sounds crazy when we’re sitting with a 30-11 record. I understand that. But we were 30-11 with a schedule that was reasonably easy. And I’m judging a lot more than wins and losses.”

The Cavaliers have a singular goal:  to be NBA Champions.  Last year, led by their superstar player LeBron James, they lost in the Finals to the Golden State Warriors.  The bar for them is extremely high:  anything less than winning the Finals is considered a ‘failure’.

Griffin, in his comments above, describes some of his process of looking out to the future to find the potential burning platform.  No doubt he was also influenced by the result of last Monday night’s game:  Golden State thrashed the Cavaliers 132-98.

It’s not easy to be willing to make changes when things seem “good enough”.   Yet good is often the enemy of the best.  Good can breed complacency, a willingness to coast on what got you here.  But will what got you here get you where you want to go?

Griffin’s choice took courage and risk.  Only time and hindsight will tell if it was a decision that will make a difference in the right direction.

What techniques do you have for predicting where the burning platforms will be 6 months from now?  Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

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