Shane Battier brings championship insight to Miami Herbert

Former NBA champion and business innovator reveals the secrets to team success.
Shane Battier brings championship insight to Miami Herbert
Shane Battier talking with students after the Future of Leadership CEO Speaker Series hosted by Miami Herbert and McKinsey & Company.

During the University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Business School’s most recent installment of The Future of Leadership CEO Speaker Series, audience members were already familiar with the featured guest, Shane Battier.

They had either trekked to downtown Miami to see Battier play for the Miami Heat or watched Battier on television. A 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward who won two NBA Championships while competing with the Miami Heat from 2011 to 2014, Battier, 45, still looked to be in playing shape during his talk at Miami Herbert, which was hosted by McKinsey & Company.

Lauded for being wonderfully in sync with his Heat teammates, including LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, Battier quickly established an informative, easygoing give and take with his Miami Herbert moderators, Interim Dean Ann Olazabal and McKinsey & Co. Partner Tom Bartman, BBA ’09.

After Bartman read a brief bio that mentioned Battier’s post-playing forays into business and noted that the Battier Take Charge Foundation has helped scores of young South Floridians attend college, Olazabal got the conversational ball rolling.

“Every team you’ve ever played on acquired some magical ability to win,” Olazabal said to Battier, who also won an NCAA Championship while playing basketball at Duke University, where he majored in comparative religions and graduated with a 3.5 GPA. “What do you attribute this to?”

“I learned everything I had to learn about winning in kindergarten!” Battier quickly responded. “True story. I grew up outside Detroit, Michigan, and I was blessed to be three things: Mixed, tall, and poor. I was the only kid in town who had a Black father and a White mother. I had no role models. There was no one I could talk to about being mixed.

“But there was one place that I fit in and that was recess, as crazy as that sounds,” Battier continued. “I realized when I was in kindergarten when I helped my friends win kickball, win baseball, win sandlot football—guess what? I’m no longer the mixed, tall poor kid. I’m like everybody else.

“So, I just became obsessed with, `How do we win?’ Some of that had to do with my performance, but ultimately, it wasn’t about my performance. It was about OUR performance. And I’m proud to say that was the hallmark of my entire NBA career. I was known more for being part of winning basketball teams, than my stats.”

An Academic All-American at Duke who speaks English and German fluently, and who in 2010 made Sporting News’ 20 Smartest Athletes list, Battier studied how interpersonal dynamics played out on the basketball teams he played for, as well as on the teams he competed against.

He came to wonder why some squads loaded with athletic and intellectual ability never made much headway. Also, why did teams with Battier–who got a huge laugh by describing himself as “kinda slow, kinda unathletic” and “really good-looking”–usually win?

Battier discovered that top-notch leadership and successful basketball programs went hand-in-hand. He had a wonderful opportunity to analyze some of basketball’s most renowned coaches, including Duke University’s legendary Mike Krzyzewski. During Battier’s four years with Duke, he and Krzyzewski won an incredible 131 contests, while only losing 14.

“Coach K taught me a lot,” Battier said. “I wouldn’t be here without him. He’s an amazing mentor. One of the things he said that has always stuck with me, is that people get caught up in roles. `Who’s the superstar, who’s the role player?’

“Guess what? We’re all role players. Every last one of us!” Battier exclaimed. “We can’t be our best unless everyone plays their role to the best of their ability. When you have a bunch of folks thinking, `I need to be the best in my role for my team,’ amazing, amazing things happen.”

Battier retired in 2014, after playing for the NBA’s Miami Heat, Memphis Grizzlies, and Houston Rockets. At the time, the sports world increasingly relied on data analytics to acquire productive athletes, a trend highlighted in a 2003 book, Moneyball, focused on Major League Baseball.

After Battier’s playing career ended, few were surprised to see No. 31 stick around to fill a new role with the Miami Heat, vice president of analytics and basketball development.

“We embarked on a three-year study, through data, trying to figure out: Where are the undervalued players we can bring into our fold?” Battier recalled. “Not necessarily the players that score the most, but who were the players that were like me? What came out of that was a super, super, super interesting framework, a model on what makes teams successful.

“We found that the two most important aspects of any team situation–it could be a corporate setting, it could be your family– is the relationship between trust and what we call mission focus,” Battier said. “And the interplay of those two things will determine your trajectory as a team.”

Battier went on to explain that a squad with low trust and low mission focus is a “disastrous team” that lacks resilience and collapses at the first hint of adversity. “No bueno!” Battier exclaimed. “I’ve been part of disastrous teams, alright? Scary.”

On a “lagging team” where trust is high and mission focus is low, the members all get along swimmingly but don’t place a premium on optimizing team effectiveness. Meanwhile, on a “brittle team” where mission focus is high and trust is low, there’s usually a lack of cohesiveness that leads to chaos and finger-pointing, at the expense of winning.

“So, where we want to live as businesspeople, as a family, as a community, we want to live in a high-trust, high-mission-focus area,” Battier said. “There’s a shared accountability, there’s a shared resilience. A shared enjoyment, a shared identity.

“When you walk into the University of Miami and you throw up the U sign, guess what? It means something!” said Battier. “It means something. You’re proud of your association.”

Having spent most of his life scrutinizing winning and losing cultures within sports, Battier shifted his gaze to corporate America. In June 2021, he was appointed to the board of directors of Yext, a New York-based digital presence platform company for multi-location brands.

Interestingly, he found that effective leaders–be they great coaches or top C-suite executives – religiously do three things:

  • Obsess over the well-being of the people they oversee
  • Consistently lay out the group’s overall objective, in unambiguous terms
  • Spend a lot of time talking, listening, giving a lot of feedback, and taking a lot of feedback
“Ineffective leaders shortcut those three things,” said Battier, a “voracious learner” who noted that “How Will You Measure Your Life?” by Clayton Christensen, is his favorite business book. “The best leaders make that commitment, make that sacrifice of energy and time, because it pays off in spades.”