Workforce & Workplace
What the Cleveland Cavaliers Can Teach Us About Comebacks at Work
Steve Cox
Steve Cox
VP, Public Relations
Sodexo North America

Last night was an historic comeback win for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but what was really impressive and a lesson for us all, was the nature of the Cavs’ comeback. Psychologically, when you’re already behind, winning can become even harder. That’s a lesson that’s as true on the basketball court as it is in the office.

We’ve all had the experience of being behind. In sports, that means being behind in points or in games. In the workplace, employees can fall behind on sales numbers or deals made. Or you might feel like your peers are being promoted more quickly than you. Sometimes, when your team or your business isn’t meeting goals for growth, not moving forward can feel like falling behind.

When we fall behind, it’s easy to feel that there’s no coming back. The distance to cover seems too great. Because we don’t want to just catch up with our competition, we want to surpass them. That usually feels like a long way to go. No wonder coming back from behind seems so daunting.

In those situations, there are really only two responses: Give up or try harder. Very few people, when they’re falling behind at work, would continue to put in the same amount of effort and hope things change. Many would feel so overwhelmed that they’d stop putting the hours in to cut their losses. But some are inspired to work even harder.

“Everybody counted us out—and that’s when we strive the most,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said.

For teams like the Cavs, being behind isn’t a disaster, it’s an inspiration. It forces leaders to stop, rethink strategy and look hard at what’s working and what’s not. What was working for the Cavs, it turned out, was LeBron James.

LeBron, who’s not afraid to pass the ball to his teammates, decided to focus on scoring. “You all just get (defensive) stops, and I’ll take care of the other end (scoring),” James reportedly told his teammates during game 6.

It was a strategy tweak that had a huge impact, and it worked. If the Cavs weren’t so far down, would LeBron have felt liberated—or desperate—enough to make that change?  We’ll never know, but there’s something freeing about being the underdog, something that clears our vision and allows us to ignore what’s not important and get down to only what’s necessary to succeed. We saw it in the Cavs performance over the past few days, and I see it at work all the time. Being down helps us prioritize and prepare to make a comeback.

How have you come back from being down at work?  Share your experiences in the comments.


Steve Cox leads Public Relations for Sodexo North America with $9B in annual revenue, 125,000 employees, 9,000 operating sites and 15 million consumers served daily.

3 comments on “What the Cleveland Cavaliers Can Teach Us About Comebacks at Work

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    This series teaches us what we can do in life despite what history says. Facing insurmountable odds and still overcoming them should teach us that such task are really opportunities that should be welcomed. LeBron James and his Cavalier teammates did just that in seizing the moment of overcoming a 3-1 deficit to give the city of Cleveland its first major sports Championship in 52 years. I say Congratulations guys and We Can Too. Overcome great odds that is!

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    Yes I experienced what I consider as a come back at work. For some strange reason I could not catch on to what was required of me at this particular job. Fear and failure began to surround me. I contemplated quitting, but I refused to quit and continued to work on small task to regain my confidence. I watched what other people were doing in preparing myself for the next opportunity. Numerous negative thoughts entered my mind , but I only focused on what was positive. Today I am capable of reading the BEO`s and setting up whatever function is required. The Cleveland Cavalier`s are truly an inspiration.

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    Harold Palmer says:

    Taking a note out of the Pat Summit hand book; ” You have to up your game”. I remember back in High School. at the time I was failing algebra. So I went to have a talk with teacher. I asked him what i could do to improve my grade. He gave that look. You know that says ,” Your situation is hopeless”. He went on to tell me, that only way I could ever get a passing grade in his class was to get a decent mark on the state exam. The tone of his voice expressed his non – belief in that ever happening. It was in the moment some thing clicked within me. – I got quiet. – In hindsight often times faced with defeat, rejection, or being put down, many of us become hurt or angry. Functioning out of a ” blame, shame mentality”, a person can easily get down on themselves. Doubt, fear and even thoughts of limiting can soon rule within side one’s mind . But when one gets quiet , not blocking off the flow of the creative energy but opening up self to possibilities, something different and exciting , can take place. For me, i was given an action plan that lead to prioritizing and preparing for my next move. .What I did was to go out brought 5 algebra review note books . I set up a training process. I worked out the questions , then reviewing what i had done over and over and over again. Auto suggestion is a power tool. What I learned most of all was the formulas, that i didn’t understand during classroom teaching. Then I went to the study class a week before the exam . The sad thing about that all the students who came to the class, where honor students in math. I did feel intimidated by them because I was in history honors class with most of them. But you could tell I was the elephant in the room . The last day of study the teacher placed what he thought was the hardest math question on the board. Then he told the class , odds were the math example would not be on our exam because it on last years test. Ever one walked of the room expect me. I told myself , that if I could understand this question, my confident would go up. It took me a few hours to get it. …When you are on a comeback , you have to give of yourself even more. You can’t think about what others will say or think. You can’t get down on self or start a pity party You have to be focus on what you, must do . And you have to do the little things. Let call, these little things, ” hustle plays ” . As Napoleon Hill said ; ” You must have desire ” As Neville Goodard proclaimed, ” You must see that which you want to have and to behold , within your imagination”. My classroom average was 55 , The grade I got on the State exam was 92.


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