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For the past several years, I've had the pleasure of interviewing tech founders and CEOs on stage in front of an audience of entrepreneurs and investors as part of my monthly Startups Uncensored event in Southern California. With the stay at home orders, I took the opportunity to revive my fireside chats series for a virtual audience with the C-suite executives of well-known companies like Mattel, Zoom Video, and Chipotle, and recently partnered with Entrepreneur on a new series with the title "If I only knew, it would be leadership lessons". Global brand CEOs, from Waze to Blue Apron, share valuable lessons they learned on their path to success in our hour-long chats, as well as practical career advice they would share with other entrepreneurs.
See Also: 10 Leadership Lessons From Noam Bardin, Waze CEO
On episode four of the series, I had the privilege to speak to Cynthia "Cynt" Marshall, CEO of Dallas Mavericks. This was a particularly poignant conversation that took place at the same time as we were investigating the racist behaviors that have plagued our country for so long. She is one of the most compelling leaders I have ever spoken to, and her life story – full of truly unspeakable difficulties and her own incredible personal strength – is a journey everyone should take time to hear about. When it comes to leadership, Marshall has real wisdom to share.
Related Topics: Free On Demand Webinar: Making History As The NBA's First Black Female CEO
Cynt Marshall's story began on the housing projects in Richmond, California, where she grew up in a home affected by domestic violence and systemic racism. She escaped the dark horizons of business administration and human resource management projects at the University of California at Berkeley, where she also became the first African American cheerleader in the university's history. From there, Marshall has successfully climbed the career ladder at AT&T for almost 40 years – a full career for most people. And in 2018, she was named CEO of the Dallas Mavericks, making her the first black CEO in NBA history.
Marshall has a real talent at drawing the right lessons from the setbacks she has suffered in her life. And her ability to illustrate how those lessons influenced her leadership style and decisions for the Mavs and beyond is second to none. The following are 10 key points she addressed during our talk:
1. Everyone has a role in how we achieve racial justice in this country
No matter who you are or what your station in life is, that means you. Everyone will have to change part of their life or a convenient way of thinking forever. All of the toxic, racist behavior we need to actively eradicate this culture every day is insidious. It can be hidden in our own behavior and in ideas that many of us have not explored in decades.
2. We are experiencing real paradigm shifts in our culture. Now is the time to change any behavior or practice that needs to be changed
Take risks and be brave, because we are in a moment when people understand and forgive a certain uncertainty in the actions of a company. These next steps are critical for all of us. Every day we make decisions about who should be included or excluded from our jobs and from our culture. We have to make the right decision every day.
3. Honesty and kindness are within us as children and it is worth remembering when life is challenging
We need to reconnect and remember the original attitudes we had as children when we just came into this world. There is a natural tendency to be honest and kind, even a survival instinct, when we first realize that other people's lives are important too. Kindness is one of the first assumptions we make when we are just starting to think for ourselves – even at the age of 3 – and we need to find the way back to that innate purity that we understood early on.
Related: Fried? 9 Hyper-Motivational TED Conversations From Women At The Top.
4. A workplace must be inviting
Employees must be families, and navigating a family is often difficult but rewarding. People come to work to enjoy their jobs, make money for their families, and improve their lives. They shouldn't have to come into a hostile work environment or place where they can expect abuse.
5. Successful business plans are created for everyone
The Mavericks organization has a process in which everyone can contribute and bring their ideas and energy to a new way of working. It must be okay if someone asks internally: “Are we all right? Is this particular process working as well as it could? "
6. A player can score 50 points, but ultimately the team counts as a unit
If the coaching is bad, that one player can't save the team. Everyone needs to be up to date on game day. Everyone has to be ready to say, "Use me, coach." And as a leader, you need to help them prepare for this by giving them the tools they need to develop their skills so that they can use those skills when they are with the ball.
7. Accept that really bad things happen to good people, but go ahead and win
It is unfortunate that setbacks and losses are a part of our lives, but that is the reality of the situation in which we were treated as human beings. You have to accept it and then prevail, because that is the game as life would have it. Life wants us to go on even if it ruins our year at the same time.
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8. Life gives you crystal balls and rubber balls, and it is important that you know the difference in your life and career
In other words, there is a difference between right and right. Some things can be fixed as they are rubber balls and they are happy to come back to you. Other things are crystal balls, and if you treat them wrong you lose something that doesn't come back.
9. A good D&I plan can be implemented very quickly
Marshall famously put together a 100-Day Diversity and Inclusion Plan to help tackle the organization's dysfunctional culture when she took over as CEO. She posted posters across the office to remind everyone of her part of the four-part plan. The leadership of the Mavericks went from a woman without a permanent management position to a current management team, which consists of almost 50 percent women and 47 percent black people.
10. Always remember where you came from because you may forget where you are going.
"I was never embarrassed about being poor when I was a kid, or any of it," says Marshall. "It's easy to get lost, but your roots can be a beacon to you in difficult times. It really is the purpose of the trip."
For more incredible lessons learned on Cynt Marshall's inspirational journey, check out the multi-hour webinar. Some people are born with "just the right stuff" to be CEOs, and this executive is proving they deserve their place at the top.