Charles Norris, a long-time executive at Fortune 500 companies, and Byron Scott, a future member of the NBA Hall of Fame, make an odd pair, something that they’re keenly aware of.
On the cover of their new book, “Slam Dunk Success: Leading From Every Position On Life’s Court,” they stand back to back, Scott holding a briefcase, Norris handling a basketball. Scott and Norris, a UR grad who majored in history, spoke to students in the Rochester Center for Community Leadership’s Medallion Leadership program last week before a panel discussion Thursday evening.
Scott grew up in Inglewood, raised by his mother and stepfather, and talks to this day about what he learned watching his father work two jobs. Norris’ father was an agricultural engineer who came to the U.S. from Poland and invented whipped cream cheese and the first totally automated dairy in the States. Scott is black and Norris is, in his words, “a Jew from Boston.”
The origin story for the book is that the men, now living in Los Angeles, kept running into each other at the Equinox gym where they both worked out. (Equinox, an obscenely expensive boutique gym favored by celebrities and the wealthy, figures heavily into the book, complete with a blurb from the CEO of Equinox.) One off-hand conversation led to another, and the next thing they knew, the men were working out together (perhaps adjacently would be the better term — Scott looks like he could suit up for a team tomorrow) and wowing their friends and fellow gym-goers with their Odd Couple friendship.
Their fruitful friendship led to an idea for a working-out-after-50 book that eventually morphed into this book on leadership. Judging by their resumes — three NBA championships, two Coach of the Year awards, board seats for massive multinational corporations — you may be able to figure out which accolades to assign to who — they certainly seem qualified to speak on the subject.
And yet, the actual book doesn’t have a whole lot going for it besides the unique personal anecdotes. Norris and Scott regale readers with fun tales involving everything from Bronx Mafia shakedowns to forgotten NBA fun-dudes like Kerry Kittles. Scott gives a genuinely touching account of Magic Johnson’s courage in announcing his HIV diagnosis before the ‘91-’92 season, and Norris has no shortage of stories about tangling with Teamsters, chasing after the Meow Mix brand, and how his father’s socialist upbringing influenced the way he ran his business.
But when it comes down to the actual conclusions the book asks to walk away with, consider these:
“Turn obstacles into motivation instead of letting them knock you down.”
“Even when those above you are rooting for failure, your drive to succeed should never waver.”
“Write down your goals and remind yourself of them every day.”
It’s not that these conclusions are wrong, or ill-intentioned, or anything of the sort. It’s that they’re so superficially obvious as to have become cliche. What is one supposed to say to these cliches besides, duh?
The leadership development industry, inundated with workshops and retreats and YouTube channels and, yes, books like this one, have left their mark on us in the form of these truisms. The language of TED Talks and “Lean In” leadership comes to us easily and without thought. Whom among us couldn’t have written, “Everyone on the team plays a role in success?”
Scott and Norris are successful people, and it’d be hard to find an issue with them wanting to share what they’ve learned with people who might look to them for guidance, even acknowledging the financial component — Scott especially spoke to being animated by a desire to communicate the wide range of options available to kids stuck in the same situation he was when he grew up. But what this book reveals, more than some fun anecdotes, is the stultified, stale language of leadership that gets pumped out in these sorts of books year in, year out.