The 4 secrets to making a team feel invaluable

The 4 secrets to making a team feel invaluable

At the Irrigation Show, retired NBA star Mark Eaton shares what he learned when he went from auto mechanic to basketball great.

December 6, 2018

Before he was setting records for most shots blocked in an NBA season, Mark Eaton swore he’d never play basketball. At over 7 feet tall, it was the question he loathed most, and the one he always got asked.

He tried his hand at the sport in high school and spent most of his time on the bench. His body wasn’t designed for speed and the drills his teammates were running didn’t work well for someone as tall as Eaton. It wasn’t until a persistent coach approached him at his job as a mechanic that he really started to consider what he could bring to a team.

At the 2018 Irrigation Show Keynote address, Eaton shared his four commitments with attendees, and the importance of making team members (whether on the court or in an office) feel invaluable.

  1. Know your job. Eaton struggled to keep up with the quick runners on the court. He says it wasn’t until he got some advice from Wilt Chamberlain that he realized he wasn’t doing his job. Chamberlain told Eaton his job was to stand in the paint and guard the basket.

    “You need to narrow your focus and intensify it,” Eaton says. “Find your most valuable trait and learn how you can leverage it.”

  2. Do what you’re asked to do. If you’re not completely sure what you’re supposed to be doing, don’t just hope you’re doing the right thing. “Take it from doing your best to being your best,” he says. Relating his lessons to business, he says doing what your customers ask you to do will already exceed their expectations, and sometimes you might find yourself achieving something you once thought wasn’t realistic. When Eaton’s first coach recruited him for the junior college basketball team, he was told to work out six hours a day, five days a week, and that’s what Eaton did, though he never thought he’d learn the skills he needed.
  3. Make people look good. Provide others with the recognition they deserve. “When they look good, your entire team looks good,” he says. When he was on the court playing with the Utah Jazz, Eaton helped the team achieve a win by blocking 19 shots in one game. The attention was on the teammate that scored the most baskets, but without Eaton’s blocks, the team wouldn’t have won. In business, the internal competition that goes on can prevent colleagues from cheering each other on or giving each other a leg up, but Eaton stressed that when your coworkers look good, you look good, too.
  4. Protect others. “If you want to be invaluable, be the person others can count on,” Eaton says. He recalls when he would stand at the end of the court waiting to guard the offense. “This is my house,” he would say to himself, "and no one can get in.” His team knew he had their back, which allowed them to make riskier plays. In business, you may have to give up some opportunities to protect your team, but you can take pride in knowing you’ve helped others succeed.