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Lessons In Leadership: One On One With Frank Zaccanelli, Former President Of The Dallas Mavericks

I spoke to Frank Zaccanelli, former president and minority owner of the Dallas Mavericks, about what he learned from his mentors Roger Staubach and Ross Perot and his best lessons in leadership

Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts on leadership. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. How did you get here?

Frank: I take pride in the fact that I’m a self-made entrepreneur – I wasn’t born into wealth. When I graduated college and moved to Houston to start my first professional job, I made the transition with nothing more than $300 in my pocket and a bag of clothes.

It was a risky decision to move across the country on a tight budget, but I trusted my instincts, networking capabilities and work ethic to get me through the unknown. As a result, when I crossed paths with Ross Perot and Roger Staubach, I managed to make a strong impression on both of them and wound up working for their respective businesses.

Beyond collaborating with Perot and Staubach in the business sector, those relationships opened the door for me to gain experience in the world of sports and politics. When Perot ran for president in 1992 & 1996, I worked as a campaign advisor for both campaigns. Then in 1996, I partnered with Ross Perot Jr. to purchase the Dallas Mavericks, where I served as the co-owner and team president of the franchise until 2000.

I’ve been blessed to have worked with some great people throughout my journey and I’ve taken a lesson from every single experience.

Adam:​ ​What​ ​failures,​ ​setbacks​ ​or​ ​challenges​ ​have​ ​been​ ​most​ ​instrumental​ ​to​ ​your​ ​growth​ ​as​ ​a​ ​leader?

Frank: Like all CEOs and businesses, you occasionally hire the wrong person and subsequently witness how the incorrect fit can cause chaos within an organization. Those situations were challenging, but wound up being instrumental in my growth as a leader. It’s a constant reminder that every business is contingent on the success of its employees.

At the end of the day, I’ve realized that most people are uniquely good, and my job is to put employees in a role where they are able to succeed.

Adam:​ ​In​ ​your​ ​experience,​ ​what​ ​are​ ​the​ ​defining​ ​qualities​ ​of​ ​an​ ​effective​ ​leader?

Frank: One of the most important defining qualities of an effective leader is to recognize the difference between leadership and management. Remember, they are two different animals – you manage properties or inventory in the warehouse, but you lead people. Those two things are often confused, but in reality, they are quite different.

Additionally, every member of the team should be treated with the same amount of respect, whether they are an entry-level employee or the CEO of the company. The word “team” emphasizes many people working under one roof for a common cause – one person is not more valuable than another.

Adam:​ ​How​ ​can​ ​leaders​ ​and​ ​aspiring​ ​leaders​ ​take​ ​their​ ​leadership​ ​skills​ ​to​ ​the​ ​next​ ​level?

Frank: The best way for people to take their leadership skills to the next level is to work under someone who is leading others successfully and mimic your style off of theirs. Another excellent point of reference would be many of the great leaders of the world – look at what they are doing and study their traits and characteristics. Try and incorporate those same values and techniques into your leadership skillset.

Adam:​ ​​What​ ​is​ ​the​ ​best​ ​advice​ ​you​ ​have​ ​on​ ​building,​ ​managing​ ​and​ ​leading​ ​teams?

Frank: To build, manage, or lead a team, you need to stress the importance of working together as one cohesive unit. In order to be successful as a team, all different parts of the group must come together and be unified – individual achievements do not matter if your team does not reach their end goal. Personally, I believe that people in leadership positions should not ask anyone underneath them to carry out a task that they themselves would not do.

Adam:​ ​​Who​ ​are​ ​or​ ​were​ ​your​ ​mentors​ ​and​ ​how​ ​did​ ​they​ ​shape​ ​your​ ​personal​ ​and​ ​professional​ ​success?

Frank: My most important mentors throughout my life have been Ross Perot and Roger Staubach, both of which I’ve had the pleasure of working for. One of the most important things that I’ve noticed in during my time with Ross and Roger is that you can learn a lot about effective leadership by working for the right people. In particular, Ross taught me that as a leader, you will receive higher-quality content from your employees when they feel they are working with you and not for you – this is something I think about regularly and try to incorporate the philosophy into my own professional life today.

Adam:​ ​​What​ ​are​ ​your​ ​hobbies​ ​and​ ​how​ ​have​ ​they​ ​impacted​ ​your​ ​development​ ​as​ ​a​ ​leader?

Frank: I’ve played competitive sports my entire life, which has absolutely impacted my leadership style. When you join a sports team, you immediately learn how to work with other people in a group setting, solely relying on each other. That aspect of team sports throughout my adolescence and through college was a main factor of me understanding the concepts of utilizing teamwork and persistence to reach a common goal.

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