Former NBA Star Smith: ‘Is Versatility Your Blessing Or Your Curse?’

Is your willingness to play any role furthering your career or stalling it? Former NBA star and entrepreneur Charles Smith joined our Corporate Competitor Podcast to help you find out. 

Charles Smith spent 10 years in the NBA, playing with the Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs. During that window, he was often asked to assume new roles, sometimes in mid-season. “I’ve always wondered how much more I might have been able to accomplish if I had been able to be in one position at one place and get really good at doing certain things,” Smith said. “But that wasn’t what my teams needed from me.”

The one skill he worked on constantly was shot blocking, and still today he ranks in the NBA’s top one percent of all-time shot blockers.

After retiring, he participated in the Executive Entrepreneurs program at Stanford University and has recently partnered with Fierce Inc., a global leadership development and training company whose client roster includes Apple, Coca Cola and HBO. One of Fierce’s critical areas of focus involves helping teams communicate better.

“There’s an old saying in sport,” Charles said, “The game tape or practice tape doesn’t lie. If you fall down, it’s there for all to see. Businesses don’t have tape like sports teams do, but they do have measurables.”

And if the tape doesn’t get you, observed the 10-year NBA player, a good teammate will. “If I messed up on the floor, Charles Oakley would be the first one to say, ‘C, get your butt over there when you’re supposed to!’” recounted Charles of his former Knicks teammate. “We need more of that accountability in corporations. I found that in corporations, there’s more room to deflect mistakes or hide lack of hustle. We need to speak truth to each other.”

Listeners to this podcast will enjoy Smith’s no-nonsense insights forged in the heat of world-class competition, including:

• The major difference between “accommodating difference” and ducking an issue using “fake tolerance,” and why the latter can be the kiss of death to organizations

• How leaders limit their team’s (and their own) development by focusing on nurturing “sweet spots” of talent at the expense of becoming more versatile

• How (and why) having hard conversations enables leaders to build more, rather than less, trust with their teams.

This podcast is a slam dunk for leaders who want to push themselves and their teams to the next level. Have a listen.

Check out the full Corporate Competitor Podcast interview archive and subscribe to new episodes.

Over the last 30 years, longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated and 11-time New York Times Best-Selling Author Don Yaeger has been blessed to interview the greatest winners of our generation. He has made a second career as a keynote speaker and executive coach, discerning habits of high performance to teach teams how to reach their full potential.