Considering Kobe Bryant’s reputation as a hypercompetitive “mother f—— a——” (in the words of teammate Steve Nash), it has been surprising to see reports of the Lakers star taking younger teammates under his wing.
As Lakers center Robert Sacre told ESPN, “This year he’s really been trying to communicate and help guys out. This year has made an effort to push guys but at the same time give them advice to make them better.”
What changed? Bryant recently gave some insight into his new leadership style.
“As I got older, I started understanding it’s not just about the game,” Bryant told the New York Times. “People carry emotions with them. They have lives off the court. That helped me communicate better.”
This approach marks a 180 for Bryant, who has long been tough on his teammates. In 2012, he notably defended his harsh ways in a Facebook manifesto where he declared, “I’d rather be perceived as a winner than a good teammate. I have nothing in common with lazy people who blame others for their lack of success.”
But Bryant’s newfound empathy should make him a more effective leader. As Daniel Pink writes in “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” “Empathy — not authoritarian rigidity — is what creates engagement, which is key in every aspect of business.”
This is something that many leaders, especially male leaders, have to figure out. As Carol Kinsey Goman writes at Forbes, “While another person’s emotional pain activates mirror neurons (the “empathy” neurons) in both genders, a second system (the temporal-parietal junction, or TPJ) quickly takes over in the male brain. The TPJ in turn activates their “analyse-and-fix-it” circuits and leads men to immediately search for solutions, rather than understanding that sometimes people just need to be heard.”
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