Two all-stars reveal secrets of success in business and basketball

Lakers legend Bryon Scott and business leader Charlie Norris share leadership insights with UCLA neurosurgeons

If you want to grow, be willing to fail. That advice, from business executive Charlie Norris and Los Angeles Lakers legend Byron Scott, could be considered a mantra for anyone — except maybe neurosurgeons. Recently, that was precisely the audience.

The two authors of “Slam-Dunk Success: Leading from Every Position on Life’s Court” spoke to capacity crowds in the Charles and Peggy Norris Global Conference Room of the Edie & Lew Wasserman Building at UCLA on May 17, delivering a synopsis of their new book on leadership.

“We are extremely grateful to have Charlie and Byron in the neurosurgery family and to enjoy this rare opportunity to learn from their valuable expertise,” said Dr. Linda Liau, acting chair of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “We want our neurosurgeons to become leaders in their field and help our staff provide exceptional care to our patients, who often come to us during traumatic times in their lives.”

Some of the lessons Norris and Scott mastered in the boardroom and on the basketball court include:

  • You have to be willing to fail in order to grow.
  • Treat everyone with the same level of respect.
  • Take a genuine interest in people and learn their unique stories.
  • Understanding people’s hearts is key to helping them perform their best.
  • Managing down is as important as managing up.

The two men know of what they speak.

Norris has created a career of transforming faltering firms into multimillion-dollar enterprises. He came to California as CEO of McKesson Water, remaking the $200-million company into a thriving corporation that sold for $1.1 billion a decade later. As chairman of the board for Freshpet, he led the start-up from early-stage testing to a publicly traded company with a market value worth more than $350 million.

Now an ESPN analyst, Scott won three NBA championships as the shooting guard for the Lakers before launching a successful coaching career. He steered the New Jersey Nets team to two NBA finals and was named Coach of the Year with the New Orleans Hornets before returning to Los Angeles to coach the Lakers.

Norris and Scott met nine years ago at the gym and quickly became workout partners and close friends who sought each other’s professional advice. The idea for the book crystalized from their recognition that they shared the same leadership philosophy despite hailing from completely different backgrounds.

“How do you motivate people who come from different countries, cultures and ethnicities?” Scott asked. “That’s the question our book aims to answer.”

According to the authors, it boils down to investing the time to get to know people, understanding how they learn and helping them become their best.

They also emphasized the importance of thinking globally and acting locally.

“We can’t afford to think ‘America First,’” Norris cautioned. “Becoming a first-class organization means working with the best people from around the world. To succeed, we need to be part of the global community.”

Dr. Marvin Bergsneider, director of the UCLA neurosurgery residency program, plans to put the authors’ advice into practice.

Repeating a lesson shared by Scott, Bergsneider told the neurosurgical residents, “From now on, each of you will be asked two questions. ‘What’s blocking you from being great?’ and ‘What can I do to help you become great?’”

Neurosurgical trainees who face challenges head-on outside the operating room, Norris and Scott emphasized, will develop into superb neurosurgeons in the operating room. 

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