If you are Kobe Bryant you can be checked out: otherwise check back in


Having just moved to Los Angeles I excitedly bought Lakers tickets to one of the last games that Kobe is playing in before he retires. The second he came on to the basketball court, the arena was electrified. People couldn’t stop chanting his name. His every move photographed. Collectively, the crowd held their breaths until he let the ball fly. When he sunk and scored the crowd was besides themselves. Roars reverberated throughout the arena.  As a New Yorker, I am used to raucous sports crowds.  As a New York Yankees fans I am used to not giving up hope and awaiting a 9th inning miracle.  There is grit in our New York games. Within this Los Angeles crowd there was something different. It was complete, en masse, worship. Even my seven year old son kept screaming “Kobe I love you!”.


While I got excited and into the crowd chants as well, I also cheered on the opposing team just for the fun of it.  Actually, I take that back. I cheered on the opposing team (in this case the Wizards) because I wanted a real, competitive game. I didn’t want to just see Kobe Bryant score. Yes, I paid handsomely for my tickets because it was one of his last games before he retires yet, I still really wanted to see a real game. At first the lakers were up ahead. Then Kobe went to the bench for a while and the Wizards caught up, took the lead and held onto the lead even when Kobe got off the bench. And it was partly because he was checked out!

Yes, I will dare to criticize the almighty Kobe. When he was on the court, he barely played defense. When he tried to score, he didn’t do any lay-ups. He stood from the side and just tried to sink in the ball from the 3-point line. By the way, forgive me if I am not super technical. I am not a basketball player of any sorts.  To me, he was not trying. He was on the court just satisficing. he was doing the bare minimum. Sadly, the crowd didn’t seem to care or notice. Every time he had the ball in his hands there were high hopes from the crowd. But he missed many easy baskets. Despite that, the fans still cheered him on mightily. Apparently, if you are Kobe Bryant and are checked out of your job, you can still be cheered on like a rock star.

A note of caution: not many people can pull such a feat off. If you are checked out in the workplace, make sure you have another job or adventure lined up. Even when you are on your way out, and even after you may have single-handily saved a company, you don’t get treated to rock-star treatment. At my last job, my last two jobs rather, I didn’t check out. I worked hard till the last minute because I wanted to leave things in a good state. I knew that even after all that I had done, that once I left, I would be blamed for all sorts of things. Thus, there was no way, I was going to “check out” mentally, and give them ammunition.

Then there are those team members that, after they are told they aren’t rockstars and are given constructive feedback, check out from their jobs in a temper tantrum manner. To those that do that around me I give them a day or two to pull themselves together. Thereafter, I do remind them they are not Kobe Bryant and do not get a free pass. In the workplace, for better or for worse, one has to constantly prove oneself.  You can’t get by in the workplace base don your supposed legacy.  People quickly forget what you have done as you are only as good as today’s project deliverables. Do I sounds bitter? I am being realistic. I was Kobe Bryant, if I can be so bold to note. I carried a team or two to victory and sustainability. However, there are those that quickly forget. And once you are gone, you go from being Kobe Bryant to Tonya Harding (failed knee-bashing figure skater).

There is also a slightly different flip-side to this as well from a manger’s perspective. The workplace keeps changing and growing. Your victories of yesterday, while great, may not matter in a workplace of changing demands, expectations and competition. This is basically a take on the “Peter Principle” in which you rise to your level of incompetence. You also cannot expect to rise based on past wins if you are currently not winning. Harsh? Indeed.  But there are only so many Kobe Bryants that get exalted as heroes even when checked out.


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