Personal Branding: What Can We Learn From LeBron?

Where did LeBron go wrong, and what can we learn from his mistakes as they relate to personal branding?

Even if you are not a sports fan, it is highly likely that
you have heard the buzz surrounding LeBron James as the NBA playoffs wrapped up
earlier this month. He has been a
dominant topic of conversation for several months now–and not for the reasons
that he would prefer. In case you
haven’t heard, he made headlines last summer when he announced that he was
leaving his previous team in Cleveland and heading to Miami to join the
Heat. Unfortunately for him, after
making his announcement and in the months to follow, he was transformed from a
likeable and talented player in the public’s eye to Public Enemy Number
One. Where did he go wrong, and
what can we learn from his mistakes as they relate to personal branding?


1) Don’t always deliver bad news in
public. If your press release or
announcement can hurt or embarrass someone, the wise thing is to take the high
road and not call attention to it yourself.
Last summer, rather than informing the Cleveland
Cavaliers that he would not be returning to their team, he went on live TV to
publicly announce the decision.
Cleveland’s management was humiliated and their fans were
heartbroken. Simply by handling
his announcement more tactfully, LeBron may have spared himself national scorn. This principle is very relevant to
business as well–whether it is laying off an employee or ending a business
relationship, always do your best to spare the other party embarrassment. Not only is it the right thing to do,
but it also keeps you from looking bad in public.

2) Don’t appear arrogant. LeBron James has been a star since high
school, and has good reason to be confident. Unfortunately, thrust into the national spotlight after his
decision to join Miami, his confidence began to look like arrogance. In a preseason rally he predicted
multiple championships and stated that winning games would be “easy.” The fact that he refers to himself as
“King James” doesn’t exactly scream humility, either. In America, we appreciate confidence and we love to watch
talented individuals work, in sports or in business, but arrogance rubs us the
wrong way. You want to be seen as
an expert in your field, but there is a fine line and when you cross over from
confidence to arrogant, you will lose more than you gain. You want to be
considered humble, open, and teachable.

3) Don’t let others define you. Perhaps the biggest single mistake
LeBron made was letting the media and his critics define his brand. After his announcement on live TV that
he was leaving Cleveland, LeBron could have immediately apologized for
embarrassing Cleveland. After he
predicted multiple championships, he could have made a statement explaining
that he was excited and got carried away.
Instead, he largely remained silent–allowing his critics to portray him
as arrogant and out of touch. This
happens often with media that control your sound bites. If what is being
conveyed isn’t accurate, be quick to correct it.

4) Surround yourself with talented advisors
and confidants.
A major factor
in the fall from grace that LeBron experienced over the last year appears to be
his lack of good advice. While
experienced PR professionals could have stopped LeBron before it was too late,
he prefers to surround himself with personal friends and family members. There’s nothing wrong with involving
friends and family in important decisions, of course, but it’s essential to
seek out experienced professionals before making big decisions–in any line of

In the scheme of things, LeBron James will be just
fine. He’s incredibly talented,
not to mention wealthy. However,
the level of public criticism he received this year had to take a painful toll
on him. While very few of us will
ever command his level of attention, we can all learn from his mistakes and
apply them to our own branding efforts.

JW Dicks (@jwdicks) & Nick Nanton (@nicknanton) are best-selling
authors that 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 Web site. Jack and
Nick have been featured in
The New
York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Newsweek,, and many more media outlets.


About the author

An Emmy Award Winning Director and Producer, Nick Nanton, Esq., is known as the Top Agent to Celebrity Experts around the world for his role in developing and marketing business and professional experts, through personal branding, media, marketing and PR. Nick is recognized as the nation’s leading expert on personal branding as Fast Company Magazine’s Expert Blogger on the subject and lectures regularly on the topic at at major universities around the world