You don’t have to be a basketball fan to know about Jeremy Lin or to learn from his story. The fact is every leader can learn important lessons from studying the pattern of his life.
Jeremy Lin, a 6’3” guard playing for the New York Knicks, is the NBA’s first American-born player of Chinese or Taiwanese descent. Coming out of high school, he was unrated by the recruiting services. After playing for Harvard, he began his quest to play in the NBA. He had try-outs with several teams, then was cut by The Golden State Warriors and The Houston Rockets; finally, the Knicks decided to give him a try. And now, after breaking into its line-up, Jeremy Lin helped the team win seven games in a row.
Impressive work! Two teachings we can take from Jeremy Lin’s story are 1) Success is seldom the product of luck, and 2) Success doesn’t track stereotypes.
Success is seldom the product of luck.
To say that Lin is an overnight phenom in the media is not an overstatement. His story reminds me of a recent conversation I had with a friend whose business is taking off. After I passed on my congratulations, she smiled and set the record straight: “It took me four years,” she told me, “to become an overnight success!” Luck has countless definitions, so my view probably can’t be wrong. I like the notion that folks who appear lucky are those who put themselves in a position to take advantage of opportunities passing through their lives.
How do they do this? Through preparation and perseverance. In my book Humanity at Work: Encouraging Spirit, Achievement & Truth to Flourish in the Workplace (Chapel Hill Press 2008), I told about one of the great chance encounters of my life. On a plane flight in 1996 I sat next to Dick Bass, then the oldest man to climb Mt. Everest and the first man to climb the Seven Summits–the highest mountain on all seven continents.
“What is your formula for success?” I asked Dick. “Simple,” he said. “Keep putting one step in front of another!” As Jeremy Lin proves, what is seldom noticed is that reaching the summits in our lives requires preparation and perseverance, taking one step and then the next—and then another after that.
Success doesn’t track stereotypes.
The arrival of Lin has generated one big question asked over and over in the media: “Why wasn’t this guy on anyone’s radar screen?” The lesson for us in business is that we need to pay close attention to the potential of every co-worker or applicant, not stereotype them to save ourselves time and effort. What this requires is that we dispassionately examine an individual’s talents and skills, not just divine who/what he or she can offer based on the written record alone.
I am often approached by friends seeking advice on securing a new position. Most résumés give a detailed exposition of their achievements, but that is not enough. Applicants think they can drop the document on a possible employer, and in reading over that document, the reviewer will divine exactly where the applicant best fits in the organization. Frankly, the truly successful organizations do just that, they have that kind of insight and spend that kind of time at it.
But while we wait for most organizations to have that sort of epiphany about the worth and best use of individuals who come their way, here’s some advice. My friends, some people have an attention span with a pretty narrow bandwith, possibly like the scouts who followed (or neglected to follow) Jeremy Lin’s career. When you apply for a job, a promotion, or a transfer, take the time and care to spoon-feed to the recipient-employer what you will bring to the party.