A few weeks after Caleb Martin joined the Miami Heat, he still didn’t have much social capital with his teammates. But he’s been a reserve player for most of his career, and he knew it was important to get along with the stars. And Jimmy Butler, a six-time All-Star and leading scorer on the team, was arguably Miami’s biggest player.
Martin had heard Butler had an aggressive personality and was known to bark at teammates and coaches. But Martin didn’t think about the potential repercussions of upsetting Butler during that early pick-up game. As soon as Butler made the pass, he started to move and the ball went out of bounds. Martin could tell Butler was frustrated. He walked up to Butler and said, “If you have any problems, just say anything.”
For a split second, Martin wondered if his boldness would annoy Butler. He hadn’t even signed a full-time NBA contract yet. But it wasn’t.
“He didn’t consider it rude or anything like that,” Martin said. “He places a lot of responsibility on others, and as much as he holds responsibility on others, he is also responsible for himself. It’s a two-way street. I allow it.”
Butler’s reputation as cocky and aggressive is not without merit, and he has repeatedly pointed out Martin’s mistakes. Butler doesn’t shy away from venting his frustrations, yelling within his team, yelling at opponents, and sometimes saying nothing at all. He is equally vocal in his encouragement.
The Heat’s NBA Finals opponents, the Denver Nuggets, have a different kind of leader in the quiet Nikola Jokic. He doesn’t give speeches, doesn’t chide his teammates, and rarely shows much emotion during matches.
Their contrasting styles showcase ideas that leadership professionals have emphasized for decades. The basic ethos both players follow seems to matter more than how their leadership manifests.
“This is a really good example of getting around this kind of static notion of what it means to be the best leader,” says Peter, an author and executive coach who works with leaders in large companies. Bregman says “Because there are two very different people here who lead in very different ways and equally effectively. So it kind of betrays the notion that there are best practices for how to do this.” .”
Professional basketball provides a helpful guide to understanding leadership. The best NBA players make split-second decisions in front of thousands live and millions watching on TV. Their off-court behavior is closely monitored and sometimes blamed for teammates’ mistakes. But whatever the outcome of their decision, they often have to come back to lead the exact same people the next day.
When Nuggets players are asked about Jokic’s leadership style, they say he leads by example rather than words.
“He’s a professional in every aspect of the game,” said Nuggets guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. “Just seeing that, just seeing that on the court, everyone wants to play basketball with him and want to play better.”
When Butler’s teammates are asked about his leadership, they allude to the sharpness of his character, a sharpness that comes from a passion they can understand. They say he holds people accountable, but it’s clear from Butler’s critique that their common goal is to be the best team in the NBA.
He also accepts the responsibilities that come with being the leader of a team.
“He’ll do anything for you,” Miami Heat center Cody Zeller said.
Some scholars may use leadership language that focuses on tasks and relationships to explain these differences. Ahsane Nahavandi, a professor of management at the University of San Diego, sees Butler as a more task-oriented leader and Jokic as a more relationship-oriented leader.
“Every leader is trying to get something done, so there are challenges that everyone has on their minds,” Nahavandi said. “But are you addressing it by pushing work or reaching out to people? Or are you enabling people to develop themselves and focus on making sure they are happy? Is it the right approach?”
That leadership framework was explored by psychologist Fred Fiedler, who studied the leadership of high school basketball players in the 1960s. Basketball has provided me with a well-managed way to understand how a group of people who, together, need to accomplish one task would respond to different leadership styles. rice field.
Fiedler also found that a leader’s success is highly dependent on the environment.
Butler’s style isn’t universal. When Butler was playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves, teammates reacted poorly to his demanding personality, and Butler insisted on a trade and left the team.
But in Miami, so-called heat culture demands excellence, dedication and thick skin.
“My leadership style works here,” Butler said, quipping about “leadership.” He added: “It’s a match made in heaven. I love it here.”
Sometimes Butler’s style can lead to outbursts, like in March 2022, when Butler and Heat coach Eric Spoelstra yelled at each other during a game and had to be stopped by another player. Today Spoelstra speaks with reverence of Butler.
“I never want him to apologize for who he is and how he approaches the competition,” Spoelstra said. “It’s intense. It’s not for everyone, and we’re not for everyone. That’s why we think it’s a great marriage.” He never judges us for how crazy we are.”
The Nuggets also strive for excellence, but the language they use toward each other is often softer. They like to talk about their collaborative nature.
“We have players who understand that being selfless is a big part of being the Denver Nugget,” said coach Michael Malone. “We need to have like-minded players on and off the court, united and sharing a common goal,” he added.
It suggests a culture in which a less confrontational style, such as the one Jokic employs, could work.
Jokic’s teammates seem to respond well to his quiet leadership, though some try to help Jokic take on a more dignified demeanor at times.
Fifteen-year veteran DeAndre Jordan pulled Jokic aside during training camp and urged him to speak out more.
“At first he said, ‘Brother, I wouldn’t do that.’ You have to do it,” Jordan said.
But Jordan and other veterans continued to encourage him. A few months into the season, they saw him start asserting himself more in the huddle and providing feedback to his teammates. But he never goes beyond what is comfortable for him.
“We don’t want him to be someone he’s not,” Jordan said. “I’m sure he doesn’t want that either.”
Jokic and Butler use very different styles, but have earned the trust of their teammates.
Chris Adkins watched some of their interviews and found a hint of how they built that trust. Adkins, the academic director of leadership development at the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame, sees research showing that “competence, compassion, and integrity” are the three essential ingredients that foster trust. said he made it
“Their players seem to agree, whether it’s a louder or quieter approach, because they know deep down that this player has a lot of potential. Because they consistently have great integrity, live what they preach, and walk their own path,” Adkins said. He said. “But they’re committed to us as well as their egos.”
Jokic is well known as a selfish player. He averaged 9.8 assists per game this season. He often said that his basketball spirit came from his Serbian coach. He was a coach who said, “Two people can be happy when you pass, but only one can be happy when you score a goal.” He tries to avoid his honor when speaking to reporters and is quick to praise his teammates.
Butler grew up in a suburb of Houston and was kicked out of his home when he was a teenager. After his high school, he had little interest in major college programs, so he spent a year at a junior college in Texas before he went to Marquette. Although Butler has fewer assists than Jokic, he plays with a selfish style that instills confidence in his teammates.
Butler said he didn’t like the Heat’s other players being called “role players” and wanted to think of them simply as teammates. Asked if he was too passive when the Heat scored just 13 points in their Game 1 loss, Butler said no, he will continue to search for teammates throughout the series.
It may take newcomers to the Heat to understand Butler’s methods.
Kyle Lowry joined the Heat in 2021, two years after Butler. Lowry is a six-time All-Star Guard selection, coming from a leadership role with Toronto, who won the championship in 2019. While he revealed that he loves Butler’s hunger for victory and dedication to his teammates, he also said his personality is “totally different.” ”
“He might say something or do something that makes you go, ‘Oh.'” ‘But it comes from the best part of his heart,’ Lowry said.
how does he know?
“We’re close to him every day,” Lowry said with a friendly remark. “Unfortunately. But fortunately.”