“WHO WANTS TO PLAY WITH KOBE?!?” or “Why great leadership is more important than ever”

I hate Kobe.

There’s nothing specific that he’s ever done in the sport of basketball (totally bypassing his personal life which is a whole other story) that he’s ever done to make me dislike him.  He’s undoubtedly one of the best people to ever play the game.  But I hate him.

Along the same lines, I hate Mark Pincus.  I don’t know the guy.  Zynga was one of the most successful gaming startups to ever exist in the world of gaming startups at one time, but I hate him.  And for both of these legends in their respective fields, I am not alone in that hate.  So why is it important?

For me, this video of Nelly (ei ei uh oh) has unintentionally become the centerpiece of my thesis on hiring and team-building, which is the fact that you can’t build a great company without the talent.  There are 2 main ways to attract young talent:

  1. Guarantee that you are going to be a company that will make them extremely rich (Facebook, pre-collapse Zynga, pre-self-implosion Groupon).
  2. Provide mentorship and guidance for someone to be all that they can be (37signals, the old do no evil Google, the Chicago Bulls, etc.)

To bring our non-sports viewing audience up to speed, The LA Lakers were one of the greatest basketball dynasties to ever exist, with a lot of their success centered around Kobe and Phil Jackson (who had previously coached Michael Jordan).  For the Lakers, Kobe was a 1 in the sense that he was the dominant force in the Lakers team and would no doubt bring you as close as you possibly could to winning a championship, but he was what Webster’s dictionary would call a “horrible person”.  Phil Jackson on the other hand was the man who could provide the mentorship and guidance that you would need to become the greatest version of yourself that could exist.

The Lakers had it made.  Then Phil left.  Then Kobe mentality took over, and now the Lakers are completely fucked for 2013.  They went from a team that won back to back to back NBA championships to a team that most people think won’t make the playoffs.  Why? They don’t have the talent because Kobe isn’t the best anymore, but his attitude is the same.  My way or the highway and shut the fuck up while you’re at it.

Zynga is the same way.  Here’s a quote from the New York Times in a 2011 article about Zynga’s corporate culture:

Led by the hard-charging Mr. Pincus, the company operates like a federation of city-states, with autonomous teams for each game, like FarmVille and CityVille. At times, it can be a messy and ruthless war. Employees log long hours, managers relentlessly track progress, and the weak links are demoted or let go.

But that culture, which has been at the root of Zynga’s success, could become a serious liability, warn several former senior employees who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals.

Here is an image of Zynga’s stock price over the last 2 years:


Pretty nasty stuff.

The allegory for the Lakers and for Zynga is this – you can’t built a great company without a great team, and you can’t build a team without great leadership.


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