Mamba Rules: Defining (and Living by) Kobe Bryant’s 10 Guidelines for Greatness

Kobe's 10 Rules for Greatness
Photo Credit: Alshon Jeffery

Greatness is a nebulous word.

Greatness is not tangible. You can’t hold it, you can’t touch it, you can’t transfer it. It’s a word you know, yet cannot neatly define. It’s only when you see someone embody greatness that you get a sense for what it really means.

For me, that somebody has always been Kobe Bryant.

Kobe Bryant, greatness.

Greatness, Kobe Bryant.

You cannot mention one without the other.

Even if you’ve never watched Kobe Bryant play the game of basketball, you know by now that his name is synonymous with greatness. His life has inspired everyone who knows his name to be better and strive for greatness in their own lives.

Odds are, if you are reading this, greatness is something you aspire for. Like most of us, you may not know exactly how to achieve it, or what it feels like when it is reached.

Look no further than Kobe.

Success leaves clues.

You just have to find them.

Greatness defined by greatness personified

Recently, my hometown Philadelphia Eagles put up a mural in their practice facility of Kobe’s 10 rules for greatness. It got me thinking deeply.

How can I define such an elusive word?

Is there a practical approach to achieve greatness in my own pursuits?

If so, can it be replicated in the lives of my readers?

I don’t know if this essay answers those questions, but it is certainly an honest attempt. At the most fundamental level, I want this essay to honor Kobe’s passion, commitment, career, and life.

So, in honor of what would be Kobe Bryant’s 42nd birthday tomorrow, I’ve taken his 10 rules and turned them into an actionable approach for how you can realize the greatness you envision in yourself:

1. GET BETTER EVERY SINGLE DAY

Greatness is the sum of minuscule daily improvements

When you look at where you are today and where you want to be, you have to understand that you won’t get there in one giant leap.

There are times when I’ve made grand plans to make transformative change in my life, only for those plans to fizzle out after a few days.

Greatness doesn’t happen overnight.

Greatness is the sum of incremental, miniscule improvements every single day.

When you look at a Thanksgiving Day turkey, you can’t eat the whole thing. You have to take it piece by piece.

When you look at a staircase, you expect to take it one step at a time to reach the top.

Treat your goals as such.

If you made 70 out of 100 free throws yesterday, aim for 71 today.

If you weigh 230 lbs today and you want to get to 200, aim for 229.9 tomorrow.

Sustainable greatness that sticks is built through small, consistent improvements.

Play the long game.

Get better every single day.

2. PROVE THEM WRONG

We all have doubters. We all have people who don’t take us seriously. We all have people who will say “you can’t do that,” or “you’re not good enough.”

Great performers don’t ignore these sources of negativity, they transform them.

Often times, having someone you want to prove wrong is enough motivation to jump out of bed in the morning and get to work. Channel negative energy into positive fuel.

Don’t cower in fear of doubters and haters. Thank them for the spark and use them as the rocket fuel for your ambitions.

Prove them wrong.

3. WORK ON YOUR WEAKNESSES

Greatness is a chain

There is a faulty piece of advice out there to discount your weaknesses and double down on your strengths. I call BS on that. Greatness is a chain. And a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

Sure, if your chain links are independent of each other, then by all means, focus on only the strongest. But if you have a coherent vision, a singular dream of what the future looks like, then you must fortify every single link in your chain.

Personally, I am strong in areas of writing, designing, and organizing. But I am weak the areas of speaking and performance. If I am to achieve my vision, then I need to commit to getting better in those areas.

This requires the awareness of what your strengths and weaknesses are, the humility to admit them, and the diligence to fix them.

Work on your weaknesses.

4. EXECUTE WHAT YOU PRACTICED

What good is reading books if you never actually use the lessons you learn from them in your daily life? What good is practice if you never actually put your skills on the line when it counts?

Kobe didn’t just practice his fadeaway jump shot for fun. He practiced it religiously so it would become one of the most lethal weapons in his arsenal.

Don’t be afraid to show your value to the world. Every experience you’ve had, every piece of information you’ve learned, and every failure you’ve endured up to this very minute is practice for what you are destined to do in life.

Execute what you practiced.

5. LEARN FROM GREATNESS

This rule requires a high level of humility and the ability to recognize greatness.

Trying to come across as if you know everything may make you feel good, but will hamper you in the long run. Look to people who have done what you envision yourself doing. Look to people who have embodied the abilities you want to develop.

Kobe learned from Shaq. He learned from Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He learned from Peyton Manning. He learned from Derek Jeter. He knew that as great as he knew he could be, he could not get there alone.

Know your role models, ask them questions, read voraciously about them, deconstruct their success into achievable pieces. As I said above, success leaves clues.

Learn from greatness.

6. LEARN FROM WINS & LOSSES

It’s easy to learn from your losses. It’s not so easy to learn from your wins. So here, I focus on handling success.

You might think that wins don’t serve you very much in the learning process, but in fact, learning how to internalize success is a crucial part of your journey.

It is important to have a healthy understanding of success, especially as it relates to the pursuit of perfection.

Perfection is not success. And success is not perfection.

If you are like me, perfectionism is a double-edged sword. On one side, it can send you on an endless pursuit of “perfection.” On the other side, any success you have can be confused with having attained perfection.  

Ideally, you want to hit the sweet spot between insanity and complacency:

How a perfectionist approaches greatness

Had Kobe and the Lakers become complacent and not learned from their wins, would they have won three straight NBA titles? Had they pursued perfection would they have had enough energy and focus to experience such long stretches of success?

They had to focus on measurable, attainable improvement. Similar to #1, small incremental improvements, even upon successes, will bring you closer and closer to greatness.

Every performance, every success, and every failure comes with lessons. Celebrate your successes, but don’t rest on them. Detest your failures but don’t shrink from them. There are opportunities to grow in every experience. And those most eager to learn will be the ones who improve the most.

Learn from wins & losses.

7. PRACTICE MINDFULNESS

This is something we hear all the time, and it often goes in one ear and out the other. It is something that I have struggled with in the daily pursuit of greatness.

But the ability to achieve stillness in your mind will allow you the luxury of calmness under pressure.

Mindfulness is the appreciation of life as it is, the present moment. And although the pursuit of greatness requires the incessant need to improve–by definition, a positive change from the present moment–a mindfulness practice will allow you to enjoy yourself along the way.

When it comes to mental health and acuity, a mindfulness practice is essential.

Practice mindfulness.

8. BE AMBITIOUS

Ambition requires three things, which I outlined in Why You Need to Bet on Yourself Now, More Than Ever:

  • A muse, an obsession, an enduring purpose.
  • Unbreakable self-belief.
  • Supreme discipline.

If greatness is your goal, then you must have ambition. You must have the fire within you—the force that pushes you forward, the spark that gets you out of bed before anyone and keeps you up long after everyone else has gone to bed.

Kobe’s ambition and determination made it possible for him to go above and beyond every single one of his peers.

Hard work may not pay off immediately. But a consistent and committed approach to your work every day will yield success beyond your wildest imagination.

Be ambitious.

9. #BELIEVE IN YOUR TEAM

You might not have a “team” in the traditional sense, but you are not an island.

I don’t have a “team” yet, as I am doing all the legwork in building Unparalleled Live at the moment. But I believe in those who support me and those who have been there with me since day one. I believe in those who I go to for advice and those who have shown me the pitfalls in advance. These people are unofficial members of my team, and I appreciate every single one of them.

When I managed a restaurant, I did have a team. I needed to believe in every single person I hired. My belief and trust in each employee empowered them to do excellent work. Believing in your team not only motivates them, but it give you a calming sense of security in knowing you can rely on them.

Kobe didn’t always have great team around him. But by setting an example and giving them his trust, they were always able to outperform expectations.

Believe in your team.

10. LEARN STORYTELLING

Storytelling is the glue of life
Photo credit: Radical Reads

People love stories. People follow those with compelling narratives and interesting backstories. People are drawn to those who can put together a coherent and relatable account of their journey. Storytelling is how the human race has risen above all other species on earth. Stories are how we get people to follow us and cooperate with us.

In order to make a maximal impact on the world, storytelling is an absolute must. You can be perfect in the first nine of these rules, but if you can’t communicate to others your vision of the future, then your pursuit of greatness will be nothing more than a hobby.

Stories are what draw us together. It is the glue that holds society together. After his career, Kobe immersed himself in learning the art of storytelling. If he was here today, I have no doubt he would become one of the greatest storytellers ever.

Learn storytelling.

Everyone has that fire

You now have the blueprint for greatness laid out by one of the greatest performers in history.

Kobe had that fire that drove him to become a legend among mortals.

Every single human being alive has that fire within them.

It’s a fire that can drive us every single day to become great.

It’s a fire that can grow out of control and sabotage us.

It’s a fire that can fizzle and slowly disappear if we don’t give it attention.

You too have that fire within you. You have that burning desire to do something amazing. To make an impact. To leave your mark on this world.

So, my question to you is: how will you use it?

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