Playbook for Success: Former Olympian, hall of famer teaches women how to be winners in the workplace
Written by Phil Cerroni
By Sissy Courtney
Author Nancy Lieberman is a basketball hall of famer, two-time Olympic silver medalist, two-time National Champion at Old Dominion University, and two-time National College Player of the Year. She talked about her experiences in life and leadership and shared stories from her business book Playbook for Success at the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber’s Women’s Alliance Luncheon Feb. 20, at La Cima Club.
A former Women’s National Basketball League player for the Oklahoma Thunder, Lieberman is the only woman to be named head coach of a National Basketball League level team. In 2010 she coached the Texas Legends, a Dallas Mavericks affiliate of the NBA Development League, taking them to the playoffs in her first season.
“I wish my life on everybody,” Lieberman said. “I was a poor kid growing up in a one parent family in Far Rockaway, NY. I was eight when they were turning out the lights and heat in my house, and I looked at my brother, and Cliff* looked at me and says, ‘We’re poor.’
“I said, ‘You’re poor. I’m not poor. Don’t tell me what I am. Don’t put that in my head. I’m not going to be poor.’ I could feel it in my heart, and I knew that was not the life that I was going to lead, and by the blessings of God, I found basketball.
“I still have wonderment that this is me – that all these wonderful things have happened to me in my career,” Lieberman said. “Every day, I wake up and I open my eyes and I thank God for this day, for this breath, for this moment, for this lunch, for this time in this place that I can be here with you because the alternative is I could have said ‘No.’”
Growing up, her idol was Muhammad Ali.
“I heard him on TV … say, ‘I’m the greatest of all times,’” Lieberman said. “I went in the kitchen, and I told my mom, I’m going to be the greatest of all time.’ I fell in love with this man, and amazingly at the age of 19, I met my hero. In my eyes, I met this incredible person who changed my life, and he taught me how to be fearless.
“Muhammad has the shortest poem in history: ‘Me. We,’
“If I’m a better me, we’re going to be a better we. If we’re a better we, we’re going to be a better they. If we’re a better they, we’re going to rock the world with our love, with our kindness and our generosity, and how we approach every day…”
Philanthropist Warren Buffett has been a friend of Lieberman’s for over 25 years.
“I think every day about his humility – humility is confidence,” Lieberman said. “Arrogance is not confidence. There should be humility in what we do each and every day.”
“Learn about sports,” Lieberman said. “It’s the great communicator; the great connector.”
She called the strategy of sports “an amazing process.”
“In Newsweek Magazine recently they interviewed 20 of the top CEO women in the world,” Lieberman said. “They all played sports. Eighty percent of Fortune 500 companies are hiring women who played sports in college.
“That’s because you can yell at them, scream at them, tell (them they’re) not really good, tell (them they) didn’t come with the goods today, you can give (them) a strategy, you can teach (them) how to win, you can teach (them) how to lose, you can teach (them) how to be a better teammate. They want us; we’re valued. This is a great time for us as women. We can do anything that we want to do, but we must believe that we can.”
She said to use humor and sarcasm in a good way along with the truth.
“There is no I in TEAM but there is in WIN,” Lieberman said.
“Each and every one of you has to be better individually. Give people a reason to follow you. Do it with love and do it with kindness, be firm but fair. Teach people how to be better.
“Nordstrom’s mission statement says: ‘You have the right to be great always.’ Be consistent. Repetition makes you great. Our job as a leader is to give them the ingredients to be great. Give them solutions. Give them some drills.
“Be a good communicator,” Lieberman said. “Tell me what you want, and I can say ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Have a passion for something. People want to be around people that inspire them, that make them happy, that are not the Debbie-downers of the world.
“Master the things that don’t take talent,” Lieberman said. “It doesn’t take talent to smile. It doesn’t take talent to execute. It doesn’t take talent to be a good teammate. Those are just core values that we should have every day of our life. Try to be a little bit better every day. You can change how people think. No excuses; no explanations because if you are explaining your excuse, you don’t want accountability.
“Be who you are – good, bad or ugly – that’s life, but be a better you every day. Don’t be a one hit wonder. I wish everyone here intentional greatness, because you can be the greatest of all time. Handle your business. Don’t tell me what so-and-so didn’t do. Handle your business.
If you do that, you will be the greatest of all times.”
*(Her brother Cliff became a dentist and lives in Virginia. Lieberman said she does not use him as her dentist because she fears pain as payback, but she said she hears he’s good.)