Carter, co-author of Born to Believe with his brother Cris Carter, a wide receiver for the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, understands the petty politics that characterize the turbulent working world.
WS: At 22, you were a rookie on the Los Angeles Lakers. Your career as a basketball player also included stints with the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers. Did you worry about “office politics” as a player? Or did talent speak for itself?
Carter: Politics matter everywhere, whether you’re a professional athlete or a manager at a company. I found it’s important to be flexible, to work hard for my team but also realize I might not be there for long. That gave me an openness to opportunity. It kind of removed me from the internal politics.
WS: How did you move from player to coach?
Carter: As an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks, I worked with another assistant coach, Lee Rose. He taught me how to promote myself to become head coach. He said the best way to get there is to get someone else to promote you so you don’t have to. When we were on the road, he said, “I’ll talk great about you and you talk great about me.” I admired him, so I agreed. His support really helped me.
WS: Lots of able folks aspire to be top dog. What separates the best from the rest?
Carter: A lot of people have a dream but don’t want to participate in making it happen. They don’t want to go to company parties. They don’t want to go the extra mile to ensure their projects are done right. And they don’t manage others’ perceptions.
WS: What do you mean by managing perceptions?
Carter: As a coach, I always arrived at work one hour earlier than everyone else and left one hour after the last person left. Sometimes a colleague would leave and then call back in a half-hour or even come by again to see if I was still there. They wanted to think they were working harder than me, but I wouldn’t let them. As a result, they perceived me as a really hard worker, as someone totally dedicated. Then they would tell others how hard I work, and I earned a good reputation.
WS: How did you get players to work as a team?
Carter: I spent time with them on their turf. I’d go to Chapel Hill and sit with Vince [Carter], who was taking classes there. I’d visit [Tracy] McGrady in Orlando. I wanted to get to know my players not just as professionals, but personally.
WS: Why is that important?
Carter: It’s how you build trust. I had a player who worked hard but had a tough personal life. I cared about his personal situation and listened.
He brought a great attitude to the team. If I told the team to “run an extra suicide,” he’d say, “Coach says let’s do it, so let’s do it.” He never grumbled.
WS: How did you get players to perform at their best?
Carter: I’d memorize the big games they had in high school. Then at a tough moment in a game, I’d motivate them by referring to a game from their past. I might say to Vince, “You’re not back playing Pompano Beach getting your ass kicked.” If you bounce something off an athlete that only he would know, that shows you’ve gone the extra step to get inside his head.
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