Mark Eaton: The Four Commitments of a Winning Team
Episode Transcript of: Mark Eaton: The Four Commitments of a Winning Team
Mark Eaton: I had an opportunity to play team at the highest level in the NBA and I’ve looked at what I learned on the basketball court and figured out a way to transpose that and transfer it to the business realm and to the boardroom and for the last 10 years I’ve gone around the country and presented this this presentation the four commitments of a winning team to a wide variety of groups and it’s resonated well and people have always asked me well what else can I do after the presentation what else is there and so that was kind of the impetus behind writing the book initially and then it also tells my highly unusual story of how I became an NBA player and so it’s a blend of both basketball stories and probably most importantly the people that came along the way that showed me the next thing I needed to do in my career and a look at those lessons that I learned and I really think it’s my responsibility to pass those on to other people and that’s what I’ve attempted to do with this book.
Alan Olsen: How did you end up in the NBA?
Mark Eaton: I sat on the bench in high school in Southern California I did not play and at the end of my high school career I thought well you know athletics isn’t going anywhere it’s time to do something else and so I actually went to trade school to learn to be an auto mechanic and I was working at a tire store in Southern California for about three years when a junior college coach stopped by and convinced me to give basketball another try at age 21. I went back to junior college for two years, sat on the bench at UCLA for two years after that and basically cold-called my way into the NBA to get a tryout with the Utah Jazz and stayed there for 12 years.
Alan Olsen: How did you transition from the guy sitting on the bench to the NBA all-star?
Mark Eaton: When I started playing basketball again at age 21 that I was just going to give it my all I didn’t know where it was going to go maybe it’s just a college degree, maybe I was going to play in Europe or go overseas somewhere and play but I just kept at it and when I was at UCLA and I was sitting on the end of the bench, it was it was frustrating to be sure and my junior college coach convinced me to leave my tool box behind, just kept saying, “keep working, keep working. It’s not about today, it’s not about tomorrow, we’re trying to get something bigger here. We don’t know where it’s going to go, but you can’t let things that are happening to you right now get you down. Even though you’re not playing, you’ve got to make your practices your games.” So between that and a lesson I learned from Wilt Chamberlain which I explained in the book, I had enough to continue to keep on moving and keep on trying and I just said I’m until all the doors are closed I’m just going to keep doing it and ultimately it led to a tryout with a team, the Utah Jazz, who were in a bad market at the time a bad team and they were willing to give me the opportunity to get my feet wet and play a little bit and it worked out well for both of us.
Alan Olsen: What’s the first commitment of a winning team?
Mark Eaton: The first commitment of the winning team is what I learned from Wilt Chamberlain one afternoon at the men’s gym. I was trying to run up and down the court catch all these little much faster players and at seven four and three hundred pounds I wasn’t very successful at that. Wilt Chamberlain pulled me aside he said, “why are you chasing these little short guys up and down the court? Come with me.” He took me out in front of the basket and said, “see this basket behind you? Your job is to stop players from getting there. Your job is to make them miss their shot and then collect the rebound, throw it up to the guard, let them go down there and score it and cruise up to half court and see what’s going on.” And it was a real light bulb experience for me because I finally understood what my role was out on the basketball court. I was out there trying to do all these things and he said, “no there’s one thing you can be great at and if you continue to focus on that it will take you much further.” I call that knowing your job. How many people are running around trying to everything, well there’s really only one thing you can be great at and if you’re not doing that one thing you’re probably not succeeding. So he really distilled it down to one simple thing that I could do that if I mastered, could carry me a long ways and that little five-minute conversation took me to a 12 year NBA career.
Alan Olsen: What’s the second commitment?
Mark Eaton: When I wasn’t playing at UCLA, on my junior college coach said, “if you’re not going to play in the games, you’re going to have to make the practice as your games. You’re still going to be the first guy practice and the last one to leave and if you continue to do those things, you will have an opportunity to try it at the next level.” I didn’t have much success around me at that point in time I but I trusted my coach and he gave me this game plan and I followed it. It’s called, doing what you’ve been asked to do. In basketball we call it, executing the play. So I asked the question, do you really know what other people want from you. Do you ask, or are you just hoping you have the right answer? Whether it’s your boss a customer whomever it is. How clear are you about executing other people’s priorities and how well do you actually keep their requests? That’s really what doing what you’ve been asked to do is all about and I think it’s critical in business.
Alan Olsen: What is that third commitment?
Mark Eaton: The third characteristic is about the people around. The better you make other people look, the better you look to them and when I came to the Jazz in the early 80’s, bad team in a bad market, our coach was trying to convince us to start playing together. The NBA in the early 80’s was all about how many shots can I get, get my playing time, punch my time card, sit down at the end of the bench and get a check every two weeks. He had to change that culture. He said, “if you guys will start playing together a little bit more, if you’ll start trusting each other and start cooperating with each other a little bit more, the individual accolades will show up and over time we started winning a few more games. He said, if we’re not going to be in the playoffs we’re going to affect the playoffs, we’re going to beat the better teams and he found little ways like that to help us to keep us motivated during the season try and get the next win the next one in the next win. And a year later, we win the division for the first time in team history, we make the playoffs for the first time in team history and we had four individual statistical leaders in the NBA which is a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since. So I call it making people look good. The better you make others look the better you look to them. So the question is really, how focused are you at work about making the people you work with look good on a scale of one to ten? Is there something you could do to improve that number, some action step that I could see? Is there somebody you need to buy a cup of coffee for, check in with, just ask them where they’re going with their career, that’s just a component of teamwork that gets lost I think. It’s more than just doing my job, it’s about making sure that you have what you need to do your job. Is there anything I could do to assist you and helping align you and engage you in our mission of where we’re going by making you look good first.
Alan Olsen: What is the fourth commitment?
Mark Eaton: The fourth commitment to me is the most poignant one. It’s what I call protecting other people. On the basketball court I protected my teammates. They always knew that I was behind them, that I had their back, that they could count on me and too often in business, we don’t see that. We say, well I’m here for you as long as you do your job, but if you don’t do your job, then you’re out of here or I can’t connect with you. The commitment that I’m talking about protecting others is the kind of commitment that, even if we stop working with each other I still care about you. I would check in with you to say, “Hey Alan, how’s it going.” Of course that’s not always possible but the concept of letting other people know it’s you have their back is rather revolutionary and makes such an impact and really is what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for higher engagement, higher trust, higher loyalty, it really starts with letting people know, being a little bit vulnerable and say, “hey Alan, I got your back I’m here for you.”
Alan Olsen: Where can people find your book?
Mark Eaton: It’s available everywhere, on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, most major retailers have it and you can or you can find at my website, www.7ft4.com.
Edited for concision
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