Lessons Learned from the Chicago Bulls, Jimmy Butler and Nonprofits

Photo:  Media.Philstar.com

I don’t pretend to be “up on sports”, but I think the manner in which the Bulls treated Jimmy Butler, and the fallout from his trade are instructive to leaders in general. It is very important to foster a culture of respect, open communication and honesty when dealing with team members and subordinates.

From what I’ve been able to glean from newspaper articles this was missing in the Bulls organization. The Front Office, apparently, was not up front with Jimmy Butler concerning their intentions of trading him. There seems to have been a whispering campaign with a bunch of unconfirmed rumors–some indicating that Butler would not be traded; some indicating that he would be traded. Butler never knew what was really happening until the day he was traded.

Sports show pundits speculated wildly as to what happened, and, for the most part, pinned the blame on Butler, calling him a failed leader, and so on and so forth. The Bulls are in perpetual damage control mode, which is pulling positive energy that could be used to develop forward momentum. The team is more divided than ever, and morale is low. When morale is low, it is very difficult for team members to be motivated to do their best. In fact, they may even consciously or subconsciously sabotage the team performance. There is plenty blame to go around, the least of which belongs to Jimmy Butler.

I have seen this type of scenario play out in a host of organizations over the years, and the end result is not pretty. Left unchecked, cultures of disrespect and lack of trust tend to cripple organizations, and sometimes, even tear them apart. Leaders are unable to get buy-in to their vision, goals and objectives; team members are unmotivated; the top performers leave and turnover is very high. The people who remain tend to lack vision or the political will to “right the ship.” In extreme cases, board meeting attendance drops off and there is no quorum to transact important business. When that happens, the organization is usually on life support.

I’m not saying the Bulls organization is on life support, but, they will never be able to be great again until the culture changes for the better. The first step in their rebuilding process should be re-establishing a culture of trust. It is very rare that anybody gives their all to a team of people they don’t trust. This is doubly true in the nonprofit arena, in which organizations rely heavily on volunteers. Unlike multi-million athletes, volunteers don’t have to show up.

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