📣 Newsletter Announcement: Level Up with Ethan Evans
Level Up is a newsletter from former Amazon Vice President Ethan Evans that breaks down how he succeeded and how you can get to the next level.
We cover career-related topics, including:
Breaking through to executive.
Managing up effectively.
Leadership resumes that get results.
After Kobe’s tragic death, I dove deep into artifacts (e.g. books, interviews, podcasts) of my favorite basketball player to better understand his mental models and tactical approach. Below are my takeaways and favorite quotes. #MambaForever
Learn and be curious. Constantly seek to improve yourself. Disconfirm your beliefs. This makes you a better leader and teammate.
Be present. Daily meditation helps.
Act like an owner. Hold yourself and others accountable and to the highest standards, even when doing so is uncomfortable.
Teach by action. Appreciate the process and the mindset will follow.
Develop empathy and compassion. Empathy for yourself, your teammates, and your competitors. It is difficult but empathy is where understanding begins. This makes you a better leader.
Look beyond your domain for inspiration (e.g. Kobe studied Muhammad Ali and took tap dancing lessons).
On The Process
“The Mamba Mentality. The mindset isn’t about seeking a result — it’s more about the process of getting to that result. It’s about the journey and the approach. It’s a way of life. I do think that it’s important, in all endeavors, to have that mentality.”
“The only way I was able to pick up details on the court, to be aware of the minutiae on the hardwood, was by training my mind to do that off the court and focusing on every detail in my daily life. By reading, by paying attention in class and in practice, by working, I strengthened my focus. By doing all of that, I strengthened my ability to be present and not have a wandering mind.”
“When it came to basketball, I had no fear. What I mean by that is: if I wanted to implement something new into my game, I’d see it and try incorporating it immediately. I wasn’t scared of missing, looking bad, or being embarrassed. That’s because I always kept the end result, the long game, in my mind. I always focused on the fact that I had to try something to get it, and once I got it, I’d have another tool in my arsenal. If the price was a lot of work and a few missed shots, I was OK with that.”
“Those times when you get up early and you work hard, those times when you stay up late and you work hard, those times when you don’t feel like working, you’re too tired, you don’t want to push yourself, but you do it anyway. That is actually the dream. That’s the dream. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. And if you guys can understand that, then what you’ll see happen is you won’t accomplish your dreams, your dreams won’t come true; something greater will.”
“No matter what discipline you’re in, there’s a common denominator in how we approach our craft. The attention to detail, the level of commitment. Those things are the same across the board and so that’s my message. Don’t look at what I did but look at how I did it.”
On Curiosity & Learning
“I was curious. I wanted to improve, learn, and fill my head with the history of the game. No matter who I was with — a coach, hall of famer, teammate — and no matter the situation — game, practice, vacation — I would fire away with question after question.”
“You have to dance beautifully in the box that you’re comfortable dancing in. My box was to be extremely ambitious within the sport of basketball. Your box is different than mine. Everybody has their own.”
"I’m reflective only in the sense that I learn to move forward. I reflect with a purpose.” (h/t to subscriber Sharon Kim for letting me know of this quote).
“It’s just me and the basket, the court and my imagination, dreams. There’s something about being in the big arena when no one else is there. It gives me a sense of nirvana and also prepares me for the game.”
“There is beauty in that. I mean, it’s going through the cycle. I mean, it’s the cycle that is the natural progression of growth, of maturation. I mean, there’s no sadness in that … I see the beauty in not being able to blow past defenders anymore, you know what I mean? I see the beauty in getting up in the morning and being in pain because I know all the hard work that it took to get to this point. So, I’m not, I’m not sad about it. I’m very appreciative of what I’ve had.”
“The most important thing is curiosity first. I want curious people, people that ask questions, that want to figure things out, figure out new ways to do things. That’s the most important thing. And then from that curiosity, having the determination to see that curiosity through.” [Kobe on characteristics he looks for in teammates]
“When I was young, my mindset was image, image, image. I took that approach with the media. As I became more experienced I realized: No matter what, people are going to like you or not like you. So be authentic, and let them like you or not for who you actually are. At that point, I started keeping all of my answers blunt and straight-forward. I would mix in some humor and sarcasm, too. I think fans and reporters came to appreciate that, came to appreciate the real me.”
“I just dream. I dream. I have dreams. Dreams should be pure and I think a lot of times we are born into this world and we actually wind up going backward. It seems like the more we mature, the more responsible our dreams become, and the more governers we put on ourselves, and our ability to dream, and to reimagine, and it’s always a fight for us parents and you guys to make sure your dreams always stay pure. So it’s not a matter of pushing beyond limitations or expectations, it’s really a matter of protecting your dreams, protecting your imaginations. That’s really the key. And when you do that, the world just seems limitless.”
“I’m not interested in self-serving pieces. It has to be something where an athlete reads it and is inspired by something, learns something and pushes themselves.”
“I think Michael (Jordan) recognized some of him in me. He understood we were a scary type…Speaking to MJ was like getting my own college education at the highest level.”
“To lead others, you have to constantly learn. I wouldn’t say my leadership style changed over the years. I like challenging people and making them uncomfortable. That’s what leads to introspection and that’s what leads to improvement. You could say I dare people to be their best selves. That approach has never wavered — from basketball to business. What I did adjust, though, was how I varied my approach from player to player, business to business. I still challenge everyone and make them uncomfortable; I just do it in a way that is tailored to them. To learn what would work and for who, I do homework and watch how they behave. I learn their histories and listen to what their goals are. I learn what makes them feel secure and where their greatest doubts lay. Once I understand them, I can help bring the best out of them by touching the right nerve at the right time.”
“Leadership is lonely … I’m not going to be afraid of confrontation to get us to where we need to go. There’s a big misconception where people thinking winning or success comes from everybody putting their arms around each other and singing kumbaya and patting them on the back when they mess up, and that’s just not reality. If you are going to be a leader, you are not going to please everybody. You have to hold people accountable. Even if you have that moment of being uncomfortable.”
“There’s a choice that we have to make as people, as individuals. If you want to be great at something, there’s a choice you have to make. We all can be masters at our craft, but you have to make a choice. What I mean by that is, there are inherent sacrifices that come along with that. Family time, hanging out with friends, being a great friend, being a great son, nephew, whatever the case may be. There are sacrifices that come along with making that decision.”
“When you have empathy towards your teammates, it helps you communicate better, helps you be a better leader, right. When you have empathy towards your opponents, it helps you destroy them quicker…because you understand exactly who they are, you understand what they’ve gone through, you understand what buttons to push, you understand if they’re insecure, you understand if they fear embarrassment, and you can really hit those buttons.”
“Understanding empathy and compassion…if I understood that at an early age it helps me as a leader to communicate better. I came to understand that later. Getting to know people on a personal level, what are their fears, what are their insecurities, what are their dreams and ambitions and desires, those sorts of things. When you come to understand that about a person then you can help them reach the best version of themselves. So I wish I’d known that earlier.” [Kobe on what he wished he knew at the beginning of his career]
“The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great at whatever they want to do.”
“I think teamwork’s the most important thing, in the sense that sports is a place where you can have so many different ethnicities, people from different religious beliefs, political beliefs…but you are all grounded on one focus, achieving one thing, alright, so being able to put those things to the side to accomplish your goal, that’s one of the strongest lessons I think you should take from team sports.”
“Shaq was a special player. He understood both how to use his body and mind. He understood both angles and human nature. He understood intimidation and domination.”
“I have self-doubt. I have insecurity. I have fear of failure. I have nights when I show up at the arena and I’m like, ‘My back hurts, my feet hurt, my knees hurt. I don’t have it. I just want to chill.’ We all have self-doubt. You don’t deny it, but you also don’t capitulate to it. You embrace it.”
“To a certain extent, every day I was vulnerable. You’re always dealing with fear, with something in your imagination. Something that you think can happen. But you just say, I don’t know if I can do that. But, I’ll give it a try.”
“My brain . . . it cannot process failure. It will not process failure. Because if I sit there and have to face myself and tell myself, ‘You’re a failure’ . . . I think that’s almost worse than death.”
“I can remember winning the first championship and kind of being like, ‘Okay, now what? What happens now?’ … [Teammates] celebrating, waving champagne bottles around … And outside of that, it was, ‘Okay, now what?’”
“It’s not about the number of hours you practice, it’s about the number of hours your mind is present during the practice.”
On Parenting & Teaching
“I think the important thing that we can do as parents is to lead by example, but also encourage our children to think incrementally…I think through actionable things is how we teach our children, alright, because we can sit there and tell them and tell them and tell them but you know, we were kids, we didn’t listen, but through sports, you can teach them how to think things incrementally because that’s the way they behave, and if it becomes a part of their process in sports it’ll become a part of their process in life as well.”
“I love inspiring kids, providing them with tools that will help them, the two vehicles, the two ways to do it, is through information and inspiration…”
“It’s like putting together a puzzle. You sit and you find a kind of emotional truth in general. And then you build a character around that, and then you put the other pieces that surround the character that fills out the plot and the subplots, all the while carrying a greater significance to the story. That’s what I enjoy most.”
“It’s a good separation for me emotionally, to be able to put myself in a place where at practice, or when I’m training, or during games, I switch my mind to something else, I switch my mode into something else, right, for me, it’s the equivalent of Maximus Decimus Meridius in Gladiator picking up the dirt, smelling the dirt, it’s go-time. So that was my mental switch.” [Kobe on becoming comfortable with the Black Mamba alter-ego]
“It means greater than infinity. I just took those words and then made a new word. And the whole idea is that when I started playing the game, everything was about trying to be the best, win as many championships as you can…yada yada yada yada, when you get older you start to understand that really it’s about the next generation. That these championships do come and go, right, and there will be other people that win championships, and the most important thing you can do is to pay everything that you’ve learned forward for the next generation to come. And, that’s truly how you create something that lasts forever. Right, and so the fundamental belief of the company is creating forever. Now how do you do that, and that’s how you create something that’s greater than infinity. Inspire one who inspires the next, who inspires the next, and on and on you go. That’s the foundation of it all.” [Kobe on the meaning of Granity Studios]
On Finding Inspiration Elsewhere
“I learned a lot from studying and watching Muhammad Ali. One of the main takeaways was that you have to work hard in the dark to shine in the light. Meaning: it takes a lot of work to be successful, and people will celebrate that success…behind that hype, though, is dedication, focus, and seriousness — all of which outsiders will never see. If you stop being dedicated to the craft, the commercials and contracts will all fade away.”
“I took tap dancing lessons…tap was the best training for me in the world because it strengthened my feet, it changed my rhythm, and changed my approach to the game. I was able to change speeds when I came back the following season. I think dancers put way more strain on their bodies than athletes do and I think there is a lot that can be learned from that…because if you simply go out there and perform and play, yeah you’ll be great every now and then, but if you play with structure, if you understand the rules that come along with that, the discipline that comes along with that, then you reach another level.”
“What can I say…Mamba out.”
It took Kobe many years to develop his framework and approach, how does one develop that experience at a faster rate or at a younger age?
How would #8 play to beat #24? How would #24 play to beat #8?
I highly recommend the hardcover book because the photos are as powerful as the words, The Mamba Mentality: How I Play.
What quotes do you like? Tell me in the comments.
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“Fly High, Burn Bright, Be Curious.”
h/t to subscriber Sharon Kim for letting me know of another great quote from Kobe "I’m reflective only in the sense that I learn to move forward. I reflect with a purpose.”