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How to help your rookies jump to the big leagues

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

For Leadership Lab, Dan MacKenzie, vice-president and general manager of NBA Canada, will be interviewing key players for their insights on leadership from the basketball court.

In both business and basketball, the pressures of the professional world can be a lot for young people to handle.

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In the NBA, rookies must adjust to opponents who are faster, stronger and more skilled than they have previously faced. They also deal with more pressure, huge crowds and sometimes harsh critics. It's a coach's job to get the most out of players by helping them adjust to the professional environment.

Anthony Bennett, 21, and Tristan Thompson, 23, of the Cleveland Cavaliers are examples of a recent surge in young Canadian basketball talent in the NBA. I interviewed Mr. Bennett and Mr. Thompson about their experience adjusting to the professional league in order to offer insights for business leaders on how to support and develop young talent.

Whether they're transitioning from college basketball to the NBA – or college courses to an office environment – leaders should remember that entering the work force is a big transition for young people.

The young employees in your organization must adjust to a new organizational culture, work on a new schedule and learn how to deal with new demands, deadlines and responsibilities. It's your job as a leader to help them through this transition so they can effectively apply their skills towards the organization's goals.

Below are some insights from the two young NBA players' experiences on how organizations – and leaders within organizations – can help young employees transition to the work force:

The coach's role:

Something as simple as where you set up a new employee's workspace can make a difference. When you put young workers in areas where they can interact with experienced staff and take cues, you encourage mentorship relationships within your organization.

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In his rookie year, Mr. Thompson's locker was directly beside two-time NBA All-Star Antawn Jamison, which he says was a blessing.

"To watch him every day and see what he does and pick his brain…He did everything right. He came to practice on time. He stayed after practice. He did everything that a young player trying to figure this whole process out should do. I looked to him and modelled myself after that because whatever he did, it worked for him," Mr. Thompson says.

The team's role:

"I can seriously say that everybody on the team helped me out in some way. Whether it was giving me advice or helping me on my game or working out with me. I'm really appreciative of that," says Mr. Bennett, reflecting on his rookie year.

Co-workers are the best resource for new employees to learn the ropes at your organization. It's your job as a leader to create a culture where employees understand their duty to help new workers adjust and understand their role; it's an important priority, not just something staff must do on top of their regular workload. Assign current employees to help new staff through the orientation process. If necessary, adjust deadlines and workloads during the transition period to allow ample time. This reinforces that training and developing new staff is an important focus.

"I always want to be there for the young guys. I had a great pro to reach out to so I want to be the same way, and I think that's only right. That's how you keep the game growing and that's how you build a brotherhood within the league and the organization," says Mr. Thompson.

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The player's role:

Both players say a strong work ethic is the best way to earn the respect of veterans.

"Work hard…put everything onto the court," says Mr. Bennett.

"As long as you play hard every night and compete, that's how you earn your stripes in the league," says Mr. Thompson.

This is an attitude leaders should encourage and a good lesson for young employees. There is a stereotype that millennials are entitled and lazy. That sweeping generalization isn't fair, but the best way for young workers to prove themselves is to be eager to learn and willing to work hard.

"Be a sponge; absorb everything that's being said to you. Come in with the right mindset that you're ready to learn and you're ready to learn from those older guys. Even if you might be better than the guy in front of you or the guy that's giving you advice, respect him as a pro because he's been there for so long and he's seen guys come and go. You can take something from each of them and it can help you in the long run," says Mr. Thompson.

His words-of-wisdom on how to act as a rookie in a new environment are applicable far beyond the confines of a basketball court.

Dan MacKenzie is the vice-president and general manager of NBA Canada (@nbacanada).

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