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NOT SO CAVALIER NOW

Now everyone can see the pep talk LeBron James gave at a private event for global leaders

epa06215429 A video of NBA player LeBron James is played at the opening of the inaugural Bloomberg Global Business Forum at the Plaza Hotel in New York, New York, USA, 20 September 2017. The forum will feature more than 50 heads of state and 250 international CEOs as it is held on the sidelines of the ongoing nearby General Debate of the United Nations General Assembly. EPA-EFE/ANDREW GOMBERT
EPA-EFE/Andrew Gombert
LeBron James
  • Heather Landy
By Heather Landy

Editor of Quartz at Work

This article is more than 2 years old.

Whether you’re running a company or a nation, a little encouragement never hurts. It’s good to have someone in your corner who can spur you to action, show you what’s at stake, and remind you of the strength within.

For moments like these, there’s LeBron James, star of the National Basketball Association’s Cleveland Cavaliers—and star of a new video screened at the Bloomberg Global Business Forum on Sept. 20.

With 300 guests, the invitation-only gathering of CEOs, heads of state, and other VIPs felt intimate by global forum standards, and security was tight. But now anyone can view the leadership pep talk that was piped into the ballroom at the Plaza Hotel as the event got underway.

The two-and-a-half-minute video covered a lot of bases, invoking a range of potentially calamitous situations from around the world and employing different motivational techniques to appeal to the audience’s conscience.

Pep-talk tactics

There was self-affirmation (from James: “You’re in this room for a reason—the same reason I’m talking to you—because we’re leaders. We all know the world needs us to step up.”) There was a sense of urgency (voiceovers from reports on riots in Venezuela and pictures of the breakaway of the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica). There were inspirational quotes and photographs of notable leaders including Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Meg Whitman, Malala Yousafzai, Elon Musk, and Ghengis Khan.

And then it was almost time to begin the live portion of the proceedings, which included talks with leaders like Apple CEO Tim Cook, Alibaba founder Jack Ma, French president Emmanuel Macron, Turkish president Recep Erdogan, former US president Bill Clinton, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, and Didi Chuxing president Jean Liu.

But first, it was back to James, who returned to the giant screens overhead as the video reached its crescendo. This time, the basketball legend was practically begging the audience to act.

“You don’t need me to set the tone,” James said. “All of you know what has happened. But I hope and I pray that you know how much all of us need you now.”

Do leaders need this?

It’s slightly alarming to think that pivotal people in geopolitics and global business need this sort of encouragement from anyone, let alone someone who has never run a government or a sprawling corporate empire.

But it’s also a good reminder that presidents, prime ministers, and CEOs are as human as the rest of us, with their own anxieties about climate change, poverty, military conflicts, or any number of other concerns threatening their people, their companies, and the world at large.

As the program moved on from the video opener to the live proceedings on stage, the encouraging messages kept flowing, from speakers like Clinton (“I want you to look to the future”) and former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg, whose financial information company sponsored the event. At the conclusion of Macron’s remarks, Bloomberg joined the young French president onstage and gave him an extra dose of courage with which to fight off the tide of populism threatening Europe.

“We have a great deal riding on your success,” Bloomberg said to Macron. “We are behind you. I think the people of France are lucky to have you. And thank you for coming.”

There were more thanks the next day from Bloomberg to James, who no doubt deserves some motivational feedback now and then, too.

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