December 4, 2020

How Mark Cuban’s Compassion for an Ex-Employee in Need Shows Remarkable Empathy (and Leadership)

Delonte West spent eight years in the NBA, playing for Boston, Seattle, and Cleveland.

During his career, his mental health was at times, unfortunately, a talking point. In 2008, he announced he had been given a diagnoses of bipolar disorder. In 2010, he pleaded guilty to two weapons charges and was sentenced to eight months of home electronic monitoring along with 40 hours of community service.

West spent his last year in the NBA in 2012 as a Dallas Maverick — the team owned by Mark Cuban — before being released for disciplinary reasons prior to the 2013 season. 

As West said, “Before [my arrest], coaches and GMs said I was a tough, scrappy player. They wanted to go war with me on their side. Everything after that incident became, ‘Did he take his medicine?’ He’s bipolar.'”

As one NBA scout said, “Talent isn’t the question. It comes down to whether or not he’s worth the potential off-court headache.”

That could be why West never made it back to the NBA. He played for a G League team and a Summer League team, and spent parts of two seasons in the Chinese Basketball Association before playing his last professional game in 2015. 

After all, most professional athletes don’t choose to retire; the phone just stops ringing.

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Since then, West has fallen on hard times as he struggled with bipolar disorder, substance abuse, and homelessness. In 2016, he was photographed in a Houston parking lot without shoes, wearing a hospital gown over a flannel shirt. Earlier this year, video emerged of him being kicked and punched while sprawled shirtless on a highway in Maryland. 

Recently he was photographed in Dallas holding a cardboard sign on the side of the road asking for help.

That prompted Cuban, West’s ex-employer — and in effect the person who “fired” him eight years ago — to locate him. Cuban picked him up at a gas station, waited with him at a hotel until he could be reunited with his mother, and arranged for her to take him to a rehabilitation facility in Florida. 

And offered to pay for his treatment.

Leadership starts with caring — but not in the way you think

As a leader, you can talk about targets. About goals. About missions and visions.

You can communicate and connect and engage in an effort to inspire and motivate, but in most cases, your employees will simply smile and nod and go back to doing their jobs they way they always have.

No one starts caring about the business they work for until they know the business cares about them. 

Since you are your business, that means you.

Your employees won’t care very much about your targets and goals and missions — in short, about what you want them to do — until they first know how much you care about them.

When West was a Maverick, Cuban didn’t have to care about West. (As Don Draper might say about a highly paid professional athlete, “That’s what the money is for.”) 

Eight years later, Cuban really doesn’t have to care about West. He could feel sympathy. He could feel empathy. His “thoughts and prayers” could go out to West.

But there’s a huge difference between feelings and actions.

Leadership — genuine leadership — extends beyond business goals and business results. Great bosses focus on providing the tools, training, and support to help their employees better do their jobs — and achieve their own goals.

Because great leaders don’t just say they care about others. They prove they care, by making “care” a verb.

Even if that means helping people who no longer work for you. 

Not for the recognition: When asked, all Cuban would say is, “I can just confirm that I found him and helped him. The rest is up to Delonte and his family to tell.”

Instead, because you believe caring is the right thing to do.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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