If you're not a big sports fan, or if you’re a sports fan who’s been living under a rock for the past couple of months, it’s possible you might not have heard of the infamous LaVar Ball. LaVar is the loud, bombastic and swaggering father of the three Ball boys, who are all young, highly talented basketball players. The oldest - Lonzo Ball - was just selected last week by the Los Angeles Lakers with the second overall pick in this year’s NBA draft.
Over the past few months, LaVar Ball has literally come out of nowhere and found his way onto virtually every major sports media outlet in the nation, including ESPN’s First Take with Stephen A. Smith, Fox Sports’ Undisputed, and The Herd with Colin Cowherd. Continuously pushing his family’s “Big Baller” athletic apparel brand and making dozens of outlandish claims about himself and his sons’ basketball prowess, he has become one of the most talked-about personalities in sports. My favorite quote had to be when he said “I would KILL Michael Jordan 1-on-1 back in the day!” and that Michael would only score “2 points” against him. Growing up as a huge Jordan fan, I was initially enraged at such a ridiculous claim, but then, it just amused me more and more and I started waiting to hear what LaVar would say next.
Most recently, he made his presence felt at the NBA draft after boldly predicting his son would lead the Lakers to the playoffs in his first year (they have been one of the worst teams in the league for three straight years now) and even made an appearance in the professional wrestling realm the other night by appearing at a WWE event and stealing the show. Although hated by many, accused of selfishly stealing attention away from his sons, and often ridiculed for his antics, you have to admit – he gets people’s attention, and some think he is a marketing genius. Moreover, he is seen by many as a highly supportive father who simply wants the best for his kids. At the end of the day, he is now in the limelight of the media, exactly where he wants to be, and everyone in the basketball world knows who his sons are.
This type of energy, confidence, and bravado which makes LaVar Ball entertaining for so many people makes me think – what could it do for safety? So I ask you the question – what would happen if LaVar Ball ran your next safety meeting, toolbox talk, or tailgate meeting? If we switched LaVar’s world of basketball with safety for one day, what would that look like?
Okay, yes, it could get crazy or ridiculous – I admit that. But work with me here for a minute… let’s examine what positive things could come out of this hypothetical situation. Here are four potential things that could happen for your safety world if he led your safety meeting that day:
People would (want to) show up and they would listen. As I described above, love him or hate him, the objective fact is that people want to hear the latest thing LaVar Ball said, and the media is all over it. He draws that sort of attention for a variety of reasons. While it’s mostly for the entertainment value, people watch and listen. What is attendance and engagement like at your company’s safety meetings and toolbox talks? What if they became ‘standing room only’ events, where employees couldn’t wait to attend and wanted to actively listen and participate? That’s rarely the case with safety, which can become a monotonous and dry topic. And while we may not wish to admit it, personal traits like charisma, influence and motivational skills can make a big difference in whether a leader can conduct impactful, motivational meetings that people naturally pay attention to. Many supervisors unfortunately lack the confidence, presence and communication skills to pull this off like LaVar Ball can.
He would be PASSIONATE about safety! You can call him many things, but if you watch LaVar Ball, there is no denying it – the man is passionate about the success of his sons and his family’s sneaker brand. The things he says, the manner in which he says them, the yelling, and the facial expressions he makes all exude pure passion for his goals. But, we can be passionate about anything – our family, our job, our pets, our favorite team or our favorite foods. Why not safety? If LaVar Ball ran next week’s safety toolbox talk, and treated it like every interview or media event he does, you can bet your bottom dollar that he would bring it with passion and enthusiasm. On a scale of 1 to 10, where would you rate your level of passion when delivering safety messages? How would you rate the passion of your supervisors or team leads when they lead safety meetings? Passion is infectious, but so is apathy.
He would articulate a crystal clear and compelling vision for safety. LaVar Ball has actually been incredibly specific and consistent about what his goals have been for his sons and his Big Baller sneaker brand. He specifically predicted for months that his son Lonzo be picked ONLY BY the Lakers, even though this meant being picked second in the draft rather than first. He took this to extremes by demanding that Lonzo ONLY work out for the Lakers, and no other team. This seemed ludicrous at the time – what if the Lakers had decided not to draft him?? No one in the draft ever works out with just one team, because they are not sure who will draft them, but LaVar was so confident that one team would pick his son, that he turned down workout offers from all other teams. And that’s only the half of it. LaVar has announced over and over again to the world how he is asking for a $1 billion deal for his Big Baller brand, how his younger sons will also play in the NBA (for the Lakers, of course!), and most recently that Lonzo will lead the Lakers to their first playoff appearance in a decade. The takeaway is this – he dreams big and has very specific goals that he sticks to no matter how impossible they seem. He conveys these goals consistently everywhere he goes with confidence. And he shoots for the moon every time. Why can’t we apply the same type of thinking to safety? Isn’t that what we do when we set “zero” as a goal? Do you have a clear vision for safety at your organization? If I were to poll your employees tomorrow on what the exact strategy and goals are for safety, would they be able to tell me what it is in 30 seconds? Too often, companies are doing dozens of safety initiatives and implementing constant changes in safety policies, while employees don’t understand why, and are not ever told what the overarching strategy is. It’s no wonder employees get jaded about safety initiatives and flavor-of-the month programs. They need to hear a consistent message from leadership about the vision and what their role is in achieving that vision.
Safety would eventually have a true “seat at the table.” Just to be clear, LaVar Ball never played a day in the NBA, and only played college basketball for one year, where he was a benchwarmer that averaged 2 points a game. And while his sons are truly talented, if he were like most other dads, we wouldn’t have paid nearly as much attention to Lonzo’s draft this year, and I wouldn’t be writing a blog about him today! But LaVar somehow CREATED a seat at the table for himself (in the sports media world) seemingly out of nothing. Through his vision, his crazy antics and showmanship, he has leveraged his sons’ talents to force his way into relevancy and is now in the limelight. He is now part of the conversation, at least for now, and is reaping the financial benefits. My point here for safety professionals is, can we similarly make safety be front-and-center in our organization? Does EHS have a real, legitimate seat at the table within your company? Is the safety agenda on everyone’s radar? Or do they have to beg to be invited to the conversation? Sadly, many organizations will tell you safety is the most important value, but when you look at where time, money and resources are spent, it reveals that the safety function is on the outside looking in, with safety managers having little authority or influence. This needs to change in order for organizations to truly reduce risk and create a progressive safety culture.
So, maybe LaVar Ball would enhance your safety meetings and toolbox talks… or perhaps he would bring too much chaos and drama. However, if we think about the specific traits and behaviors that he is using to set the sports world on fire, we can apply those to our own safety leadership in order to get people excited and passionate about safety, lay out a clear strategy for safety, and make workplace safety a top priority - as it should be.