Business · Public Relations

What Kevin Durant can teach us about Leadership by Anita Newton

Leadership is a hard thing to learn and even harder to describe. But sometimes you just know it when you see it. One such (but unlikely) example is Kevin Durant’s recent acceptance speech as 2013-2014 NBA Most Valuable Player

Kevin Durant received an overwhelming 119 of 125 first-place votes to beat Miami’s LeBron James and win his first MVP title. In his short, emotional speech, what Durant illustrates, in my view, are the top three traits that make a great leader.

Humility + Hard Work

Management expert Jim Collins wrote a book calledLevel Five Leadership in which he describes the ultimate leader as someone who blends genuine personal humility with professional will. HBR states“Leaders who possess this paradoxical combination of traits are catalysts for the statistically rare event of transforming an (organization) from a good into a great one.”

Durant is this kind of leader.

It would have been easy for Durant to trumpet his accomplishments. Instead, he spent the majority of his speech thanking his coaches, fans, his family, his faith and his teammatesindividually. He highlights the personal strengths of every single teammate from the most senior to the fresh-from-college Rookies. This humility is combined with phenomenal will – Durant not only won the MVP this season, he won the league scoring title, too – averaging over 32 points while shooting 50% from the field.


During his speech, Durant wipes away tears, showcases an incredible sense of humor while acknowledging his many struggles. “I failed so many times but I got back up,” says Durant. “I come from a small county outside Washington, D.C. called PG (Prince George) County. Me, my mom and my brother moved so many different places growing up. It felt like a box, it felt like there was no getting out. My dream was to become a rec league coach. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to stay home and help the kids out.”

He is authentic, which makes him both likable and credible. Deep Nishar, SVP Product & User Experience at LinkedIn sums it up well, “Being human is not a sign of vulnerability it’s a mark of strong leadership”

Bigger than Himself

Durant understands he is part of a bigger idea – a shared vision to win a championship.

Durant is proud of his personal achievement, but it is clear he isn’t yet satisfied with his season. He wants to win the NBA title. But the same can be said for the other 29 teams vying for the same trophy each year. What sets the Oklahoma City Thunder apart is Kevin Durant; he is a killer combination of talent and humility and expresses himself in a credible, authentic way.


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