What LeBron James Can Teach Us About Personal Branding

The NBA season tipped off on Christmas day, which meant a return to the spotlight for LeBron James and the Miami Heat. As you probably know, LeBron James generated controversy—not to mention numerous headlines—last season with his decision to publicly jilt the Cleveland Cavaliers in favor of the Miami Heat.

In the process, LeBron’s personal brand evolved substantially from a fan favorite, to a villain, to a gradually "rehabbed" image this off-season. There are a number of lessons that are relevant to business owners seeking to build a strong personal brand in 2012. Below are three of the most important.

1) If you’ve got bad news, deliver it in private whenever possible. Last off-season, LeBron James left Cleveland to play for Miami. This is not uncommon in sports where star athletes relocate often. However, the way in which James handled the process was an unprecedented disaster.

Rather than discreetly moving on, James took over ESPN airwaves for an hour to make his announcement. He outraged Cleveland’s management team, broke the hearts of their fans, and disgusted fans across the nation with his seemingly self-centered approach.

The moral of the story for business owners is simple: Keep negative developments as quiet as possible. Whether it is laying off an employee, discontinuing a product line, or even closing a store location—handle it as discreetly as you can.

2) When you screw up, apologize and move on. James's "decision" was handled poorly. This was obvious to everyone, immediately. But rather than apologize for it, LeBron bristled at the suggestion that he did anything wrong. He then doubled down, so to speak, by appearing in a celebratory rally with his new teammates in Miami.

As a result, he faced criticism all season long, a fate that could have been avoided had he simply apologized for his indiscretion. The moral: If you know you’re wrong, don’t fight it. Come clean, set things right and move past it.

3) At the end of the day, it’s the bottom line that matters. LeBron James, for all of his personal accolades and notoriety, has yet to win a championship. To make matters worse, he has often seemed to "choke" when the stakes were highest. As a result, the media and most fans primarily focus on his shortcomings.

Winning would completely change the narrative surrounding James, but until that happens, he’ll be viewed by many in a negative light. As a business owner, the lesson is simple: Exceptional products and services will define your brand in a way that nothing else can. Deliver an outstanding customer experience and you’ll never have trouble bringing in new business.

You’re not a superstar basketball player, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from James's personal branding nightmare. Keep these lessons in mind as you create a powerful personal brand in 2012.

JW Dicks (@jwdicks) & Nick Nanton (@nicknanton) are best-selling authors who consult for small- and medium-sized businesses on how to build their business through personality driven marketing, personal brand positioning, guaranteed media, and mining hidden business assets. They offer free articles, white papers, and case studies at their website.

Related Story: What LeBron James And The Miami Heat Can Teach Us About Teamwork

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  • Nick Nanton & JW Dicks

    Great comment Loraine. Certainly there are differences but the similarities are also very apparent. 

    The converse of your statement is also likely true. Ask an athlete how hard it is to turn an entire team around when he is just one player! Thanks for reading and thanks for the discussion!

  • Loraine Antrim

    Personal branding for sports is a different animal from  personal branding in business. Although both share similarities, how a celebrity sports star "works" his/her personal brand is different from how a business executive can extend  brand. For example, LeBron James or Michael Vick can act in a way that angers fans. Personal brand disaster time. BUT...have a winning season, take your team to the playoffs and all is forgiven. Brand shines again.

    It's not that easy in a business environment to turn a brand around. I totally agree with your three main points. It's just that in business, it might take a much longer time to turn a personal brand around. Thanks for the great article. Loraine Antrim  http://twitter.com/#!/lorainea...