September 2, 2020
7 min read
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For the past few 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 Fireside Controls in place, I took the opportunity to relaunch my Fireside Chat series for a virtual audience with C-Suite executives from well-known companies such as Mattel, Zoom Video and Chipotle, and I recently partnered with Entrepreneur. to host a new series called “If I Only Knew Leadership Lessons”. CEOs of global brands, from Waze to Blue Apron, share invaluable lessons they’ve learned on their way to success, as well as practical career advice they would give to other entrepreneurs, during our discussions. ‘one hour.
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In the fourth episode of the series, I had the privilege of speaking to Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynthia “Cynt” Marshall, a particularly poignant conversation that took place at the same time as we examine the racist behavior that has sullied our country for so long. She is one of the most compelling leaders I have ever spoken to, and her life story – filled with truly indescribable hardships and incredible personal courage – is a journey everyone should take the time to take. ‘hear. When it comes to leadership, Marshall has some real wisdom to share.
Related: Free On-Demand Webinar: Making History As NBA’s First Black Woman CEO
Cynt Marshall’s story began in 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 plans to study business administration and human resources management at the University of California, Berkeley – where she also became the first African-American cheerleader in the history of the ‘university. From there, Marshall spent nearly 40 years – a full career for most people – climbing the corporate ladder at AT&T. And in 2018, she was named CEO of the Dallas Mavericks, making her the first black female CEO in NBA history.
Marshall has a real talent for learning the right lessons from the setbacks she has had to endure in her life. And his ability to illustrate how these lessons influenced his leadership style and his choices for the Mavs and beyond is unmatched. Here are 10 major points she raised during our conference:
1. Everyone has a role to play in how we achieve racial justice in this country.
It doesn’t matter who you are or what your station in life is, it means you. Everyone will have to change a part of their life or a comfortable way of thinking, forever. All the toxic and racist behaviors that we need every day to actively eradicate this culture are insidious. It can be hidden in our own behavior and in ideas that many of us have not considered in decades.
2. We are experiencing real paradigm shifts in our culture, so now is the time to change any behavior or practice that needs to change.
Take risks and be bold, because we are at a time when people will understand and forgive some uncertainty in a company’s actions. These next steps are crucial for all of us. Every day we decide who to include or exclude from our workplaces and culture. We have to start making the right decision every day.
3. Honesty and kindness are in us as children, and it is worth remembering that when life is difficult
We have to reconnect with and remember those original settings that we had as children just coming into this world. It’s a natural tendency to be honest and kind, even a survival instinct, when we first begin to perceive that other people’s lives matter 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 have to find our way back to that innate purity that we understood very early on.
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4. A workplace should be welcoming
Colleagues should be family, and navigating a family is often difficult but rewarding. People come to work to enjoy their work, earn money for their families and improve their lives. They should not have to enter a hostile work environment or a place where they can expect to be mistreated.
5. Successful business plans are made with everyone in mind
The Mavericks organization has a process by which everyone can contribute and put their ideas and energy into a new way of operating. It should be acceptable for anyone internally to ask, “Are you okay?” Does this particular process work as well as it could? “
6. A player can score 50 points, but the team as a unit ultimately counts.
If the coaching is bad, this player cannot save the team. Everyone needs to be up to speed on their game day. Everyone has to be prepared to say, “Get me involved, coach.” And as a leader, you need to help them prepare by giving them the tools they need to develop their skills, so that they can take advantage of those skills when they end up with the ball.
7. Accept that bad things really happen to good people, but keep going and triumph.
It is unfortunate that setbacks and losses are a part of our lives, but it is the reality of the situation we have experienced as human beings. You have to accept them and then you have to take it, because it is the game as life is. Life wants us to continue even though it simultaneously ruins our year.
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8. Life hands you crystal balls and rubber balls, and it is important that you know the difference in your life and your career.
In other words, there is a difference between doing the right thing and doing the right thing. Some things can be dropped because they are rubber balls and they can’t wait to get back to you. Other things are crystal balls, and mismanaging them means losing something that won’t come back.
9. A good D&I plan can be implemented very quickly
Marshall put together a 100-day diversity and inclusion plan to address the organization’s dysfunctional culture as she took the reins of CEO. She put up notice boards all over the office to remind everyone of their role in the four-part plan. The leadership of the Mavericks has grown from a lack of women in permanent leadership positions to a current leadership team made up of nearly 50% women and 47% people of color.
10. Always remember where you came from because you might forget where you are going.
“I was never embarrassed to be poor as a kid, or any of that,” says Marshall. “It’s easy to get lost, but your roots can be a beacon for you in times of difficulty. This is really the purpose of the trip. “
To learn more about the incredible lessons learned along Cynt Marshall’s inspiring journey, watch the 1-hour-plus webinar. Some people are born with “the right things” to become CEOs, and this leader is proving she deserves her place at the top.