This Is What Effective Leadership Looks Like, Part 2

I was prepping for my summer classes today, and one of the topics I will be teaching about is the importance of organizational culture. I try to bring in real-life examples as best I can, and while searching on Google I came across an article about Mark Cuban, one of the sharks on Shark Tank and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, a professional basketball team.

Back in February of 2018, Sports Illustrated reported on a Dallas Mavericks organization that was rife with misogyny and predatory sexual behavior.

Cuban reacted quickly when allegations became public, hiring former AT&T executive Cynthia Marshall as interim CEO to help bring change to the organization’s culture. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver praised Cuban for making quick executive changes at the company but said, “as Mark has acknowledged, he is ultimately responsible for the culture and conduct of his employees.”

The Mavericks undertook a seven-month study of the allegations and found that numerous instances of sexual harassment and other improper workplace conduct had taken place over the past 20 years at the organization.

While the investigation found no wrongdoing by Cuban, he did agree to donate $10 million to organizations that support the leadership and development of women in sports and that work to combat domestic violence.

In an emotional interview with ESPN, Cuban issued an apology to the victims and families who were affected by these incidents.

“I’m just sorry I didn’t see it,” he said. “I’m sorry I didn’t recognize it. I just hope that out of this we’ll be better and we can avoid it and we help make everybody just smarter about the whole thing. …I have to recognize I made a mistake, learn from it, and then try to fix it.” 

The story highlights two key aspects of effective leadership:

Taking responsibility: As Adam Silver notes, Cuban recognizes that as the owner, he is ultimately responsible for the culture of the organization and the behavior of its employees.

Admitting your mistakes: There are those magic words again – ‘I’m sorry.’ It reminds me of my recent post about Warren Buffet.

The two aspects seem so basic, like lessons most of us learned in kindergarten. If that’s the case, why is it so hard for some leaders to embrace such ideas?

I think it’s a story worth sharing with my students, one that goes beyond my original goal of trying to find something that relates to the importance of corporate culture, or in this case, what can go wrong when there is a negative culture.

By the way, when writing this article, I wanted to make sure that I had not already written about this story.

Fortunately, I have not; but while searching my site, I did come across an article from 2016: This Is What Effective Leadership Looks Like.

While that story had little to do with culture, I do find it ironic that the person I featured was another high profile NBA executive, Gregg Popovich, coach of the San Antonio Spurs.

It seems like the NBA is a breeding ground for effective leaders…

*image from the Boston Globe

49 thoughts on “This Is What Effective Leadership Looks Like, Part 2

  1. It is a curious thing that leaders in all fields seem to earn more respect when they take responsibility and admit fault, and yet that is so hard for many to do. Not only did Cuban say that he was sorry for his employees’ behavior (that doesn’t take that much courage), but he followed it up by taking responsibility for their conduct and the culture there that allowed such actions to persist. The monetary donations show an act of contrition as well. I’d say that if someone were trying to rehabilitate their image, that would be the textbook approach.

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  2. “I’m just sorry I didn’t see it,” he said. “I’m sorry I didn’t recognize it.” The second statement is the correct one. He certainly saw it. He just didn’t recognize the impact it had on employees and workforce effectiveness. We all live and learn.

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    1. good point, John. He may have seen some things taking place, and never realized it had become part of the culture and was harming the organization and its people. We need to be both aware and responsible..


  3. This is an encouraging story, Jim. It is nice to know there are still people out there who care enough to try and change a bad system. A good story to share with your students. We have to try and keep young people optimistic about life and the future.

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  4. Great post, Jim! A wonderful example to share with your students. It is not only instructive about what culture is and its importance, but it also teaches about character which will serve them well in the future. Will you be returning to the classroom or will the summer classes be virtual?

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      1. I have no worries! You have Pat to get you through any tech issues. Although, it must seem so different than the lecture hall. I know you will take to it like a duck to water.

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  5. he took personal responsibility and acted quickly, working to fix things and actively make them better. a perfect example of a leader. i admire him for that.

    in my pre-k class, we no longer have them say ‘i’m sorry’ immediately when something happens between 2 children, whether accidental or purposeful, as sometimes children will just say this because they know it is expected of them and not really mean it. instead, they go to the other child, look them in the eyes and ask, “are you okay?’ No matter what the reply, the ‘offender’ will then ask, “What can I do to make it better?” The person who felt they have been wronged can ask for what they need. A verbal apology, a hug, a hand hold, an invitation to play together, a picture, or a statement that they won’t do it again, now that they know it bothered the other person. sometimes a combination of things. after modeling this a few times, the children (age 3-5) now do this quite naturally and it has worked beautifully. many parents have reported they now do this at home. the children’s version of taking personal responsibility and making things right. an important lesson to learn at a young age.

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    1. that sounds like a wonderful way to learn how to take personal responsibility. It really is true that everything you ever really needed to know you learn in kindergarten. thank you for sharing this; if you don’t mind I may share it with my students when I talk about leadership..

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  6. It’s weird that it is so hard for leaders to take responsibility for their actions sometimes, but again it is a hard thing to do and that may be why those who do, earn so much respect.

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      1. On a happier and completely unrelated topic, I’ve just found a new Fogerty family video, published 4 days ago: Up Around The Bend. Have you seen it? I can recommend it 👍

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      2. I saw that one too, loved it. Funny thing though: after I watched it I looked up Woodstock on Wikipedia and it says that CCR played from 12.30am to 1.20am, but he said in the video they started at 2.30am. Memory loss?

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      3. didn’t he see that 12:30 was the scheduled time, but it turned out to be much later because of the Grateful Dead? I think there are probably a lot of fuzzy memories from Woodstock…

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      4. He said they were booked for 9pm, but the Dead and the weather got in the way. Going on after the Dead is a bit of a moveable feast at the best of times! I think you’re right about the memories, though 😉

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  7. Jim, I love the two highlights from you story. It points to authenticity and transparency. One of the strongest pieces in the foundation of leadership is humility. We make mistakes, and that is okay. But our character is defined by how we treat those mistakes. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thanks, Kristopher. And I agree with you on the importance of humility in a leader. Jim Collins noted that humility is the defining characteristic of what he referred to as Level V leaders – the highest level one could attain.

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