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Utah Jazz free agent Gordon Hayward's quiet leadership

True leadership is vastly undervalued.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

In 2013, the Utah Jazz decided it was time to usher in a new era in Utah Jazz basketball.  It was time for a true rebuild.  Dennis Lindsey and the front office took an inventory of their current roster, determined it wasn't capable of making a stretch run in the Western Conference, and let go of their top paid free agents Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson .  The mantle of leadership was left vacant.  The void was created.

Immediately the questions of "Who will take on the new leadership role?" cropped up.  Would it be the Jazz's freshly drafted Trey Burke who had set Summer League record lows for three point shooting?  Would it be the understated Derrick Favors who was taking over the vacancy down low?  Or would it be Gordon Hayward , the baby faced almost Duke killer from Butler?

When asked about possible leadership before the beginning of last season Gordon Hayward answered,

"We're both quiet guys. Fav even more than I am. So, something happens, something doesn't go our way, somebody is, you know, not doing their job, it's part of our responsibility and our job to make sure that we, you know, it's not, you don't have to yell at the person. You don't have to do anything crazy like that, but to be motivators a little bit and hold people accountable, and hold ourselves accountable, and make sure that the next time, they get the job done."

It seemed the role of leadership was naturally leaning toward Gordon Hayward.  He had been a leader on the upstart, plucky underdogs of the NCAA tournament.  He is more famous for a shot that didn't go in.  Even his Jazz teammates at the beginning of training camp saw him as this leader.  Enes Kanter when being pressed to answer a question by Hayward responded, "So, Gordon said it. He's the leader, so I have, gotta tell it."

But what makes a good leader?

Some point to Kobe Bryant 's passion to win regardless of the feelings hurt in the process.

Some point to Michael Jordan 's competitive fire and confidence.

One could look at LeBron James and his unselfish attitude.

Jazz fans would be quick to point to John Stockton and Karl Malone 's selfless play on the floor and their commitment to daily hard work.

Simon Sinek, who teaches graduate level courses at Columbia University in strategic communication and mainstay, teaches,

"The closest analogy I can give to what a great leader is, is like being a parent."

Now put these same individuals as parents.  Imagine them all at a parent teacher conference.  How would they receive criticism?  How would they receive praise?

A leader is a parent to his disciples.  A good parent helps his children feel safe.  Simon Sinek continues, "If you go back 50,000 years to the Paleolithic era, to the early days of Homo sapiens, what we find is that the world was filled with danger, all of these forces working very, very hard to kill us. Nothing personal. Whether it was the weather, lack of resources, maybe a saber-toothed tiger, all of these things working to reduce our lifespan. And so we evolved into social animals, where we lived together and worked together in what I call a circle of safety, inside the tribe, where we felt like we belonged. And when we felt safe amongst our own, the natural reaction was trust and cooperation. There are inherent benefits to this. It means I can fall asleep at night and trust that someone from within my tribe will watch for danger. If we don't trust each other, if I don't trust you, that means you won't watch for danger. Bad system of survival."

And when we felt safe amongst our own, the natural reaction was trust and cooperation.

Most people can instantly recognize a good leader and it is not by the performance on the floor.  It's by the fawn of their pupils, students, children, and employees.  They feel safe with them.  They know that their leader will protect them to the very end.  Even sacrificing themselves or their pride for the good of the tribe.  We evolved this way.  That is why good leadership is intoxicating.  When the tribe feels safe in their assigned tasks, whatever that may be, they work harder for that leader.  They toe the line.  They can believe in a common goal because that leader allows them to feel safe.  If the disciples achieve that common goal then the outside dangers will lessen thus increasing trust and cooperation.  It's a circle of trust.

This is fine and dandy if we are talking about business settings but basketball teams are a different sort of beast, especially professional ones.  It's a game for the purposes of entertainment that includes producers, directors, general managers, coaches, training staff, building directors, presidents, scouting staffs, and so on.  It's a complicated working machine.

It is easy as a fan to place on a player, "That guy needs to step up and lead."  There's a caveat.  The coach.  The coach calls the shots, makes the plays, runs the practices, sets the team goal, helps that team achieve that goal.  In Utah, that coach comes with a greater aura.  Coach Corbin, whether fairly or unfairly, gained the respect of Coach, capitalized on purpose, by the hard work, determination, and long-term excellence and achievement accomplished by Jerry Sloan.  The title of Coach is given more respect than any other team in the NBA save only the San Antonio Spurs.  Only a few special individuals can lay claim to that high honor.

While Gordon Hayward is being asked to stand up and be a leader there was Tyrone Corbin.  This was the dance of leadership in 2013-2014.  A coach, uncapitalized for a reason, in an expiring contract trying to gain the respect and trust of a locker room of players who because of their age would be mentioned as the hindrance of the 2013-2014 season time and time again.  These are the quotes from the hired leaders of last year.

Sidney Lowe , assistant coach:

"You know, it shouldn't be hard. You know, and that's what coach talked about, you know, you shouldn't, as he talked, you know, you shouldn't have to coach effort.

"You know, you wanna have people, certainly, you know, on your team that's gonna come out and play hard. You know, it's the one thing you can do every single night. You know, you're not gonna make shots every night. That's not gonna happen. But the one thing that you can do is you can play hard every single night.

"And for young guys to understand that, you know, we have some guys that have stepped into different roles and that they, you know, they haven't been used to. And, you know, but it's a big boy league, and you gotta be ready to do it."

Sidney Lowe, assistant coach:

"You know, I hadn't. I talked to coach about it. You know, I had a fairly young team in Vancouver, but yeah, I had some pretty good players, obviously, like [Mike Bibby] and [Shareef Abdur-Rahim].

"But we didn't have a schedule like this. I mean, this is, you know, this is really tough for a young team, for a team where guys are, really, a couple of guys for the first time, you know, that they're starters in the NBA, and looking to play 30-35 minutes a night, or 40 minutes a night.

"And then to get this type of schedule, it's really tough. It's really tough.

"So you know, what I'm hoping is that we, you know, we learn from it. I'm hoping that we learn, that they learn how to play on the road, you know, with all these games, and understand what it takes to win on the road. You know, that's a big challenge. It's hard for any team to win on the road...

"When you're playing on the road, you're really just trying to hang in there. You're just trying to execute. Tempo is so m-is so key, in terms of, you know, not turning the ball over, not pushing it too fast, but executing, and then you try to get it at the end, because you just don't go on the road and blow teams out."

Tyrone Corbin :

"Well, youth, man. I mean, you're young. It's a young group of guys. And how, teaching them how important the little things are, and everybody doing the right thing, in ev-in each and every possession...It always hasn't been the entire group on the floor doing the right thing at the same time."

Tyrone Corbin:

I thought last night, you know, with all the talk last couple of days, and I don't listen to a lot of it. I just kinda heard, they briefed me on something about, you know, how it's better for where we are now to lose games. And that's difficult for players, especially young guys, to understand.

Tyrone Corbin:

I said right from the beginning, is, in no way when you change the roster like we changed, is good for a coaching staff, especially in the last year of their contract. And it brings a lot of questioning and everything to do with young guys...You see why coaches that's been in it a long time won't put themselves in a situation where they have a young team because of those things. It doesn't matter how you scheme things when you have young guys. Young guys make mistakes in this league. And the consistency of play, and that's why they're young in this league...I would have liked for things to be different and have been handled differently, but they weren't. So, it is what it is.

Tyrone Corbin:

[Kanter]'s still a young, young guy, man, and young guys are gon, they wanna have some fun. And they don't realize at times it's work and it's a job. But I think he have a better understanding now than he did a year ago, of what it takes and as his role increase, how his play have to become more consistent, beca-so he can be a great pro.

Tyrone Corbin when asked why the Utah Jazz struggled when they had a starter out in January of 2014:

"Just look at our roster."

The last one is telling.  In managerial speech it's akin to a nuclear bomb.  Simon Sinek says, "You see, if the conditions are wrong, we are forced to expend our own time and energy to protect ourselves from each other, and that inherently weakens the organization."

When asked, "Why is the team struggling?" Ty looked at his roster and said, "Just look at our roster."  There may be some who think it is too much to read between the lines of this comment but as a leader what is not said is just as important as what is said.  His message, no matter what lofty worthwhile goal he wrote on the whiteboard in the locker room, was "THIS IS NOT POSSIBLE.  THIS IS UNREACHABLE.  THIS IS UNREALISTIC."

Now imagine Tyrone Corbin as the father of this team.  Now think about it in the context of this:

If you think about what being a great parent is, what do you want? What makes a great parent? We want to give our child opportunities, education, discipline them when necessary, all so that they can grow up and achieve more than we could for ourselves. Great leaders want exactly the same thing. They want to provide their people opportunity, education, discipline when necessary, build their self-confidence, give them the opportunity to try and fail, all so that they could achieve more than we could ever imagine for ourselves.  --Simon Sinek

[To those who say, "Well, this wasn't the coaches fault."  Rarely, is the leader at fault directly for the problem of his organization.  But the price of leadership is take the responsibility of the group.  To look blame right in the face and take ownership of it in order to protect the safety, confidence, and self-respect of his followers.  By doing so that leader is able to keep the team on track toward their goals.]

This locker room festered all year long.  This disjointed family fell apart.  Young players were singled out as keeping the team back from its goals while veterans were heralded as leaders, the strong ones, and the only players keeping the Jazz-tanic from sinking without any survivors.

By doing so, the individuals in the locker room began to protect themselves one from each other.  Why?  Because they were not safe.  If their coach was not there to protect them, who was?

Gordon Hayward, heralded as the one to take the mantle of leadership, quickly became a shell of himself.  I won't go into detail of the career lows of a season he put together but it was evident that the vacuum of leadership of the team, the blame of being the problem young player, and the arrival of free agency was weighing heavily on his mind.  This prompted Gordon Hayward to give short answers at times to reporters and to appear distant.  He struggled under the mantle of leadership publicly or as so it would appear.

Gordon accepted the blame of his actions and his teammates many times throughout the year but by the end it was too much for him.  Veteran players on the Utah Jazz, savvy in league-wide appearances, made blanketed statements to improve their worth, but not their leadership.

Richard Jefferson who, while being honest about Gordon Hayward's upcoming free agent plight was too much on his mind, placed a target on his teammate for his attitude instead of defending him like a true leader would, "You can't, and I try and tell him, I'm like, "Look. If, when you got drafted, or when you were in your last year at Butler, if someone told you they were gonna pay you $10 million to play basketball, you would blow your mind."
But all of a sudden, other places, and again, I don't know what his number is. I don't know what's been offered to him. I don't know what the Jazz, or any of that stuff-I, just conversations with him, it's like, now all of a sudden, if you're only, if you're getting $11 instead of $13 [million], you're in a bad mood. And it's like, no, that can't be your mentality.
And you can't worry about what teams have money, what teams don't have money, if your team-no, because all those things will drive you crazy, 'cause then you're gonna wanna play well against the teams that have money, and then, you kn-all those things go into that brain, and it'll affect the way you play."

While it is great for reporters and fans to hear this great morsel of information it is putting a teammate on blast and creating discord in the locker room.  How much does anyone trust Richard Jefferson after he put Gordon Hayward's private troubles in the open.  Gordon Hayward listened to Jazz PR at the beginning of the season and kept his free agency private.  Yet, Richard Jefferson was somehow excused from talking about his teammates' same free agency?

Of course, Gordon Hayward would be surly after this sort of thing.  After all, he never called Richard Jefferson out for his candidness of looking forward to free agency.  Hayward, also, did not comment in public, to my knowledge, about Jefferson making comments about his free agency.

Then comes the comments of David Locke of this summer, "He's, frankly, just as surly as [Deron Williams ] in some other elements in the kind of personality that make him at times difficult. The key is, he is a good person who's very conscientious of things around him, and I'm concerned on him [in terms of the mental pressure that comes with] a max contract...

"He's gotta find a way to be more charming than he is with the media. That's a step in his career.

But I would also say, I'm gonna jump to his defense for a second. He's [improved]...He has taken himself from a bench-playing, you know, wing player into a formidable piece that clearly a franchise in the NBA has deemed important enough to roll out stupid money for."

Then so all know that we are not being critical of Tyrone Corbin, "Let's make sure we understand that we're not necessarily being critical of Ty, because there was a, there's a philosophy behind that...I'm just sharing an individual player's frustration."

But as a true leader, Gordon Hayward has stayed silent save for a few broadcasted Twitch games.  He has let his play and agent do the talking.

[One should question the veracity of such a claim of a "surly" Gordon Hayward.  After all his Team USA coaches said this about him, "The primary thing about Gordon is that he's a winner. Every coach would want a guy like him. He's a terrific player, tough competitor, very skilled. When I studied him in preparation for the national championship game, you saw his versatility. You knew there would be NBA teams that wanted players like him in their organization. He is a coach's dream."

Beware of those surly players.  They are a cancer and, as it turns out, the best possible representative for the United States of America on an international stage at the Olympics.]

The void of leadership somehow created a culture of authoritarianism.  Coach could not be criticized but the "young players" could.  Take all the transcripts of the past year and search for "young players".  By doing so, one finds an endless array of blaming that creates an us vs them dynamic that no leader would ever want to create.  It's as though during the past three years of Jazz basketball, Utah has fielded an A and B team without letting on to the NBA.

Derek Sivers at a TED conference gave a speech about starting a movement.  So what would one think is the most important part of that movement?  The leader?  WRONG.

The biggest lesson, if you noticed -- did you catch it? -- is that leadership is over-glorified. That, yes, it was the shirtless guy who was first, and he'll get all the credit, but it was really the first follower that transformed the lone nut into a leader. So, as we're told that we should all be leaders, that would be really ineffective.  -- Derek Sivers

This brings us to the now.  Gordon Hayward was short in interviews, but rarely passed blame or responsibility.  He understands the price of winning.  That somehow to some makes him surly as Deron Williams.

What makes a great leader?  Even Tyrone Corbin speaking about Gordon Hayward taking a leadership role said, "You cannot force it."  He was right.  But little did he know he created a climate for leadership amongst the "young guys".

Let's return to the example of the Paleolithic era.  When there is danger, people will turn to packs and tribes for survival.  Tyrone Corbin intentionally or unintentionally created that danger and formed the "young guy" pack.  That pack stuck together.  They stood up for each other.  Rarely throwing one another to the wolves.  Trying to help each other feel safe.  Remember what Kanter said about Hayward?  "So, Gordon said it. He's the leader."  They respect him, not because he's vocal. But because he helps those other players feel safe.

Simon Sinek at the end of his most recent speech at TED said this, "We call them leaders because they go first. We call them leaders because they take the risk before anybody else does. We call them leaders because they will choose to sacrifice so that their people may be safe and protected and so their people may gain, and when we do, the natural response is that our people will sacrifice for us. They will give us their blood and sweat and tears to see that their leader's vision comes to life, and when we ask them, 'Why would you do that? Why would you give your blood and sweat and tears for that person?' they all say the same thing: 'Because they would have done it for me.'"

While there are those who call him surly, let's remember he never mentioned players or factions by name when he said that there was improvement to be made.  He would call himself to be better when the team fell short.  He showed disgust when team goals were not hit, but wouldn't exclude himself from that same responsibility.  Gordon Hayward's true leadership last season was shown by what he didn't do, didn't say, and to what he didn't react.

Did Gordon Hayward fall prey to the constant beatings by the media, his coaches, and organization?  Of course.  Even the play by play guy for the Utah Jazz is criticizing his attitude after one of the worst seasons in Utah Jazz history.  It's fair to question whether his play on the court is deserving of a max contract, but his leadership off of it?  Without question, is max contract caliber.