CNLP 393: Rob Pelinka, L.A. Lakers’ GM on Swimming with Great White Sharks with Kobe Bryant, Building a World Championship Team, and How Humility Can Transform Egos and Talent

Rob Pelinka, L.A. Lakers’ GM and Vice-President of Basketball Operations, talks about the challenges and strategies involved in helping the Lakers move from the worst in franchise history to World Champions in three years, how he manages players like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, the keys to great negotiation, and why Kobe Bryant invited him to swim with great white sharks to study their movements and habits.

Welcome to Episode 393 of the podcastListen and access the show notes below or search for the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts and listen for free.

Plus, in this episode’s What I’m Thinking About segment, Carey talks about the qualities and characteristics of highly effective leaders.

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7 Surprising and Endearing Characteristics of Highly Effective Leaders by Carey Nieuwhof

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1. No matter your industry, a serve-first mindset pays off

So many leaders overlook their most important asset—people. When Rob became the general manager of the Lakers, he’d been a players’ agent for decades. As a result, he knew what players wanted and needed. So, when he became GM, he kept the same focus of making sure their players’ needs were met. As a result, they were able to build a championship-winning team.

2. How you spend your time “off” heavily affects your time “on”

For the entire 100-day 2021 basketball season, Rob, and everyone else in the NBA, was locked in a bubble. They couldn’t see their families, their friends or go anywhere outside of their permitted zones. Since he was staying in a hotel with teams and coaches, he needed to be “on” for work 24/7. In this time, Rob learned that having the ability to spend time “off” work is key to performing well while he’s “on.”

3. If you truly want to be great, make every habit count

When you study the lives of the top .001% of leaders, you notice there’s no detail of their lives or their days that haven’t been thoughtfully unpacked. They construct their habits to revolve around building a life that produces top results both at work and, often, at home. If you want to become a top performer, take a more intentional approach to your daily habits.

Quotes from Episode 393

Basketball players know when they feel cared for just like customers of a business know when they feel cared for. - Rob Pelinka Click To Tweet Building up that social capital and that relationship capital ultimately helps negotiations in the end. - Rob Pelinka Click To Tweet A transparency lens leads to more productive deals and partnerships. - Rob Pelinka Click To Tweet If you go into a negotiation with a scorched earth mentality of, 'I need to get everything and the other person needs to get on their knees,' that's not likely to lead to the best result. - Rob Pelinka Click To Tweet God's faithfulness seems to be most clear when you look through the rear view mirror of life, and you can see how he pieces your story together. - Rob Pelinka Click To Tweet There's so much comfort in that figuring out God's will for your life is not your responsibility. - Rob Pelinka Click To Tweet So much of our day is how we are managing our thought life and making sure that we're holding our thought life accountable to the principles we want to live by. - Rob Pelinka Click To Tweet Look at life through the lens of, 'I have the privilege of being an instrument in God's hands, and how am I going to use this day?' - Rob Pelinka Click To Tweet Passion and leadership and learning can come from so many things in life. - Rob Pelinka Click To Tweet Punctuality is a feature of great leaders. Click To Tweet Great leaders take their work, not themselves, seriously. Click To Tweet Leaders who go the furthest are often the most humble. Click To Tweet

Read or Download the Transcript for Episode 393

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Next Episode: Hannah Brencher

Hannah Brencher’s first public speaking event was a TED Talk in NYC when she was 24. Fast forward a few years, and Hannah reflects on what she’s learned as a communicator, Millennials and their addiction to platform, and the future of what her generation wants in digital and physical interaction.

Subscribe for free now so you won’t miss Episode 394.

CNLP 393: Rob Pelinka, L.A. Lakers’ GM on Swimming with Great White Sharks with Kobe Bryant, Building a World Championship Team, and How Humility Can Transform Egos and Talent


  1. Rich A on January 28, 2021 at 11:33 am

    Don’t worry Carey, those of us who follow sports definitely know who Rob is and what he does even if you don’t!
    This was a fantastic episode, really well spoken and really well done, a great example of helping us understand not just something a great leader does, but HOW THEY THINK about what they do. You keep me listening and sharing with content this good!

  2. Steve Creel on January 26, 2021 at 1:20 pm

    I enjoy your thoughts and insights the majority of the time. I am saddened that you have chosen to use Kobe Bryant as a role model in your work. He was a rapist and he was a bully. He is notorious for being cruel. I don’t care to follow his example. I don’t know his spiritual estate. I hope that he repented and that he found humility. Either way… there are literally millions of others who are striving to serve Christ in ways that are worth writing about.
    Hero worship and especially hero worship of this type are unhealthy. I don’t want to be like Kobe Bryant. I don’t want to be a winner if he is the bench mark.
    I will continue to enjoy and gain from the vast majority of what you do. Thank you for considering this opinion.

  3. alice conole on January 26, 2021 at 11:32 am

    Thank you for such an uplifting interview. I think Rob Pelinka demonstrates what it looks like to love God with all heart, soul, mind and strength and I want to do the same!
    It was honoring to Kobe as well, on the first anniversary of his death. It was inspiring to learn more about who he was as a person and what made him such a force.

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