What do Kevin Durant and Usain Bolt have in common?
Well, a lot actually. Both are elite athletes in their respective sports (obviously). Durant is an eight-time all star, four time scoring champion, two time olympic gold medalist and the 2013-14 NBA’s most valuable player. Bolt is the most dominant sprinter in the history of modern track and field. Until Wednesday, January 25th, he had won nine gold medals in sprinting disciplines. (100m, 200m and 4x100m, all gold, three olympics in a row). He’s the world record holder (by a wayyyyyys) in the 100m dash, as well as the 200m. He’s also an eleven time world champion to boot.
In addition to their undisputed excellence at their respective sports, they’re both unusually tall for their positions. Most elite olympic sprinters are nowhere near 6’5” like Bolt. He starts slow out of the blocks because it takes so long to get those tree trunks moving at full speed. But, once he does get them going, he’s covering far more ground per stride than any of his competitors.
Durant, who is definitely 7’ tall, but almost certainly closer to 7’ 1”, is much, much taller than most small forwards… or power forwards… or centers, for that matter. And, the fact that he’s a lethal, knockdown jump shooter, has silky smooth handles and elite body control in the lane is beyond uncommon for a man of his size. His freakish wingspan makes him a terror on defense, even when you get by him (his chase down blocks are ferocious. Maybe not Lebron ferocious, but ferocious nonetheless).
So, what can these two uncommonly tall, historically great athletes teach you about business?
Well, it all comes down to teammates.
33% of Bolt’s gold medals came from team events. And one of those was recently confiscated by the International Olympic Committee. Why? Because Bolt’s teammate recently failed a doping test (the samples are retested for years after the competition to implement new tests for previously untraceable performance enhancing drugs). His unprecedented “triple-triple” (three sprinting gold medals in three consecutive olympics) is no more. While his personal legacy remains untarnished, the record books will certainly look different because of his teammate letting him down.
Durant’s teammates haven’t sabotaged him quite so directly, but the best version of his game has only been unlocked after being surrounded by a collaborative, nurturing, star-studded team environment like the one Golden State presents. His efficiency numbers are much higher than they’ve been at Oklahoma City. His defensive stats are through the roof to boot. He’s shooting less, but scoring more per 100 possessions. And, his (new) team is poised to make the finals yet again.
To be fair, Russell Westbrook is a monster from another dimension. His vicious athleticism is a sight to behold. Durant and Westbrook were a dynamic, fearsome duo. But, they didn’t build each other up — they mostly just took turns trying to score.
The moral of these stories? Even the best athletes, at the very top of their craft, are often defined by their teammates. Bolt just lost a gold medal because his teammate wasn’t competing above board. Durant has unlocked a new dimension of his game as he progressed into a much healthier, stronger team environment under Steve Kerr and the Warriors.
The same is true of our businesses. It doesn’t matter how much of a badass you might be at your craft, if you don’t have strong teammates supporting you, you’re probably not going to make it very far. If your corporate culture doesn’t encourage collaboration, teamwork and achieving success collectively, you’re less likely to achieve the ultimate goals you’ve set out for yourself, your team and your company. Being the very best at your trade can get you a long ways. Dedicated, unrelenting work ethic can take natural talent to the bleeding edge of accomplishment. But, in almost every pursuit, you will be able to accomplish even more by surrounding yourself with a great team and fostering that team environment.