In the NBA, one of the explicit roles that a player can play on a team is as a “locker room guy.” The term is usually applied to a well-respected veteran who, despite declining athleticism, remains valuable to his team because he settles down the younger players, sets a good example of professionalism, and helps lubricate the social functioning the “locker room” (e.g. the relationships between the various players.)
One classic locker room guy who is still playing in the NBA Playoffs right now is Juwan Howard. Howard is 40 years old, and simply isn’t a very good NBA player anymore (and hasn’t been for a number of years). In his youth, he was a key member of the “Fab Five” at the University of Michigan, and even made the NBA All-Star team in 1996. In his career, he’s earned over $150,000,000.
This season, Howard has played in just 7 games, scoring a total of 21 points. That’s a good quarter total for his teammate, NBA MVP LeBron James. Yet Howard remains a respected teammate who plays a critical role in helping the Heat successfully integrate volatile players such as the much-arrested “Birdman,” Chris Andersen.
The NBA might worship youth more than even Silicon Valley; players like LeBron are national figures by the time they’re 16 years old. Yet the NBA still understands–and pays for–its locker room guys. Howard hasn’t started more than half his team’s games since 2006; yet during that time, he’s earned about $30 million warming NBA benches.
If anything, your startup needs a “locker room guy” (or gal) more than any NBA team. NBA teams play 82 regular season games which last about 2-3 hours each. Your startup team is together practically 24/7 for years on end. NBA players are under contract, and can’t quit unless they retire from the game. Your employees can leave at any time.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve worked hard to build up my skills as a “locker room guy.” Maybe that means taking the time to listen when people have complaints. Maybe that means strolling over to de-fuse the situation when you hear two people arguing over the same thing for the nth time. Maybe it’s simply making people feel reassured and appreciated.
Take a look around your startup, and see if you can identify your “locker room guys” (or gals). Then hang on to them. Not all value can be measured by lines of code or deals won.