Life Lessons for Leadership with Crystal Robinson

Crystal Robinson is a retired professional Basketball player and coach who’s played the highest level in the Women’s NBA. Today, she’s a thought leader in the space of conscious leadership, mental health, and diversity. In sharing her life and professional lessons Chrystal talks about:

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Find out more about Chrystal below:

Finding Myself Book:

Full Transcript Below

Steve Rush: Some call me Steve, dad, husband or friend. Others might call me boss, coach or mentor. Today you can call me The Leadership Hacker.

Thanks for listening in. I really appreciate it. My job as the leadership hacker is to hack into the minds, experiences, habits and learning of great leaders, C-Suite executives, authors and development experts so that I can assist you developing your understanding and awareness of leadership. I am Steve Rush and I am your host today. I am the author of Leadership Cake. I am a transformation consultant and leadership coach. I cannot wait to start sharing all things leadership with you

And a special guest on today’s show is Crystal Robinson. She’s an American basketball coach and former Women’s NBA, All-Star. And she was the first black woman to be inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. Now, after chronicling her life’s lessons in her book, Finding Myself, she’s now an ambassador for the LGBTQ Community, but before we get a chance to meet with Crystal, it’s The Leadership Hacker News.

The Leadership Hacker News

Steve Rush: In the news today, we explore how diversity and inclusion has evolved and diversity education started in the sixties, so it’s nothing new to us. And over time we would have all become aware of how it’s evolved to take into consideration inclusion. And while many think that diversity and inclusion are the same thing, they’re not. Diversity is the act of creating community, comprised of people with varying backgrounds, creeds, ages, differences, and inclusion is finding a way of making sure that all of those people feel really valued in what they do and how they behave.

Wait, where did equity come from? Well, it’s always been there. In recent years, diversity and inclusion issues have been bolstered by the addition of the concept of equity and unlike equality, which focused on providing equal resources, regardless of context. Equity actually focuses on the process of just being fair. Equality is treating everyone the same. Whereas equity is about achieving the same benefits, even if it means that everyone receives different, there’s still fair and justified treatment and experiences. Regular listeners will know that we love the difference that makes the difference. And that’s because all humans are different. We all have components of our identities that are both seen like race, gender, identity. And then there are hidden things like our mental health or disability or sexual orientation, and whether you’re willing to admit it or not, we all come from different backgrounds and we hold multiple interconnecting identities and biases that show up in our relationships and our workplace. Research also shows that higher levels of diversity may lead to increase conflict and misunderstanding. And often because we struggled with accepting and celebrating our differences. Inclusion doesn’t mean that we can just pretend those differences don’t exist. It means that we can acknowledge those differences and take advantages of differences to create diverse, equitable, and inclusive communities that we work and live in.

And therefore, we now arrived at our current incarnation, this essential tool that features equal and equitable attention on diversity, equity and inclusion. And as I reflect on this, a single piece of the puzzle missing could create an incomplete picture. Diversity is the heart of different voices in any conversation. Inclusion is uplifting, validating and hearing each and every voice and equity as a manner in which we amplify those voices. So, the leadership hack is dead simple. When you’re thinking diversity and inclusion, think everyone everywhere, and do you have equity? Not equality. Making sure the right treatment for the right people, the right places at the right times means that we all get to benefit from diverse and inclusive behaviors and diverse and inclusive communities. That’s been The Leadership Hacker News, I would love for you to share anything that’s on the top of your agenda, so get in touch.

Start of Podcast

Steve Rush: Crystal Robinson is a special guest on today’s show. She’s a retired professional athlete and coach who’s played the highest level of basketball in the Women’s NBA. Today, she’s a thought leader in the space of conscious leadership, mental health, and diversity. Crystal, welcome to The Leadership Hacker Podcast.

Crystal Robinson: Thank you for having me.

Steve Rush: So, let’s just start by calling out a few of your kind of credits to your name. So former WNBA player and coach, named an all American by the WBCA, you earn a rookie of the year award and an ABL All-Star, you’ve been indicted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame, indicted into the NAIA Hall of Fame, drafted overall sixth by the Women’s NBA. Now author, coach, and ambassador for the LGBTQ community. Wow, that’s not a bad backstory.

Crystal Robinson: Yeah, I’ve had a pretty fun and exciting life.

Steve Rush: Now, it hasn’t been always that smooth sailing to be fair, has it? So, I know from the last time that we met, you grew up in rural Oklahoma. Having had a really kind of tough upbringing, having to navigate some poverty, a lot of racism issues, and then having to deal with and come to terms with your own sexual identity along that, on the journey, I guess. So just tell us a little bit about how early life really was for you.

Crystal Robinson: Overall, I guess, at some point in life, you know, I was just a poor kid growing up happy, you know, you don’t know you’re poor until you learn you’re poor, but lots of struggles, but I think everybody in life has struggles. I think in my book, I write about them, but that’s really, for me not wasn’t the focus of my life. I think I wrote about those struggles basically for people to understand that that are commonalities with all of us. We all have struggles, but just kind of how we end up dealing with them, determines where we end up in life.

Steve Rush: Yeah, wise words, is often the case, isn’t it?

Crystal Robinson: Yeah.

Steve Rush: You know, often, most people are faced with adversity of some kind, but it’s a reaction to that adversity that makes the difference. And clearly, you know, you face into those really well because you ended up as a professional athlete. So, tell us a bit about the journey of how you ended up in baskets ball?

Crystal Robinson: Both my parents were college basketball players. I was just something, they were both all Americans that I was an innate. I was born with a great ability and five years old; they gave me a basketball goal and I started playing on it and fell in love with it. Then the rest was kind of history after that. So, I just excelled, I played basketball all the time. Basketball became a place for me to take out my anger and anything that I wasn’t feeling good about. It was a place for me to, you know, just release all of the negative feelings that any negative feelings that I had.

Steve Rush: And having the foundations of using basketball if you like as a bit of a coping mechanism, most people will use some form of coping mechanism to deal with some adversity, but there is a different level of coping when you turn into being so good at it. You become recognized in your country as being the elite in your sport. Tell us a little bit about when that kind of pivotal moment happened for you when you became a pro basketball player?

Crystal Robinson: It’s so funny, you know, there was no professional women’s basketball whenever I started playing basketball, you know, we were young girls. We didn’t have the ability to look and say, hey, I wanted to be in the WNBA one day. So, you know, I just played all the time. I play with my guy cousins and overall goal was to be as good as my best cousin and things just kind of snowballed from there. Then I ended up being recruited by every college in the country. The town I grew up in, it’s a population of about 400 people. It’s called Stringtown, Oklahoma. So, you start having people from all over the United States coming to watch you play basketball and offering you scholarships. I’d say at that point, I thought I was pretty good and believe, but I don’t think it wasn’t until, you know, hindsight after your career, you kind of evaluate and see where your skillset fit in to your professional career.

Steve Rush: Yeah, and you’ve told the story through your book, which is just an amazing read, called Finding Myself and tell us a little bit about how you decided to put your stories down into pages for others to read about?

Crystal Robinson: I wanted it to be interesting, one, because, even though I’ve been a basketball player, I’m not Kevin Duran or Stephan Curry or no one with a big name like that, putting your story down for other people. It was about, you know, helping people, helping people see that. One thing, there’s few things that we all have in common. Like it doesn’t matter what color you are, what race you are or how rich you are, nothing matters. We’re all going to encounter obstacles. Some of them make us stronger. Why does it make some of us stronger, and some of us not? You know, some of us suffer. So, I think that lots of people that are suffering feel alone, but just putting those stories out there that we all suffer at times. It’s just about, you know, figuring it out. The perspective on how to navigate it.

Steve Rush: Was there an element for you as well, as you wrote the book and you put all the stories down and into kind of words and stories, was there a little bit around another bit of therapy going on there for you at the time as well?

Crystal Robinson: Honestly, it was all therapy going on there.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Crystal Robinson: Honestly, to tell you the truth, I went to therapy and I was told to journal and I didn’t set out and write a book like, oh, I’m going to write a book. I started journaling and just writing things that bother me, things that made me feel good, things that just, I don’t know, things. And after seven or eight journals later, I felt better. And I sent and all of it to one of my friends that writes for the Amsterdam News in New York. And she said, this would be a really good book. You should organize it. So that’s kind of how the book journey started. It wasn’t that I just sat down to write a book. It just kind of happened. I probably have stories together and then put it in book form.

Steve Rush: I would love to get into some of the stories if you are okay with that, because there were some really inspirational things that happen to you that we can all get some life lessons from. I remember the time that you talk about it in your book, when you were playing little league baseball, your dad turned up at a game to watch you, he was blind drunk. And despite that, you kind of played a brilliant game. What happened for you in that process and how did you use that as a positive?

Crystal Robinson: I think in those moments, you don’t ever feel like it’s a positive, I think, but for me, I think that it taught me perseverance, you know, and at an early age, I had to figure out how to, you know, really just walk with my head, held high, even though everybody in the town knew that my dad was a big drunk. But my dad was a very functioning drunk. He worked, he went to work at times, you know? I think that taught me, first off, you know, the people who are going to care are going to care. At that point, I think I started to learn to not care about what other people thought, you know, some circumstances we were put under, we don’t ask for them. We just have to learn how to deal with them and cope with them.

Steve Rush: I would imagine that taught you a huge amount of resilience.

Crystal Robinson: Yes.

Steve Rush: Not just that occasion, but many occasions like it, I guess.

Crystal Robinson: Definitely resilience. And I think that just in life, anybody who wants to make it, or just to be successful in life, it takes resilience. I’m sure when you started this podcast, it wasn’t easy. You have to get people to come on, you know, you have to get all this things together, and I’m sure there’s many, a times that you go through things you might want to quit, but you’re resilient enough to know the benefits of it down the road, or you have a foresight to keep going. That’s the best way to say.

Steve Rush: Absolutely, yeah. And some of that kind of resilience, I guess, was also born about, through your experiences in high school. And I also remember reading in the book that when you were playing high school basketball, you came acquire a bit of, you know, racial slurs and verbal abuse. In that environment, you know, how do you deal with that when you’re trying to focus on playing a game?

Crystal Robinson: Oh, man. My stance on this has changed so much over the years, just recently in my hometown, I was racially profiled and pulled over, basically taking the jail for no reason until they realized who I was. Then they tried to let me go after like six hours of wasting my time. And I said, no, so they trumped up a charge. And it was just a lot, like, it just kind of changed my stance on just how I am. I think that the racial environment in the world right now has everybody on edge. And I think that I find myself having to go back to a lot of that stuff and a lot of the teachings and a lot of the way that I used to feel, just because of the place that the world is in now and the experiences that I’ve had.

Steve Rush: That’s really interesting. You you’re most talking as if at one stage in your life or your career, you thought you’d got through that, but it seems to almost have another resurgence.

Crystal Robinson: Well, I would say that, I would probably say that I didn’t experience a lot of racism as a young kid. I did once or twice in my life, but I live in rural Oklahoma where there’s no, we still bury people in black cemeteries and white cemetery. So, racism is definitely alive and well.

Steve Rush: Wow.

Crystal Robinson: You’re really good at sports and you really good at things. You know how it is, people overlook that. And then at the back end of my career, you know, people change, times change and some young cops pull me over and don’t know who I am and they just proceed to search, the car, I’ll all this stuff because I have my dreads down. And then when the speaker of the house representatives and the judges are called in, like, what are you doing? And at this point I’m a voice. I’m a voice that can bring some attention to it. And it was just a lot, so my stance on that, I find myself, I won’t say in prayer, but really having to check myself and think about that a lot more now, just because I feel the world is racially charged right now.

Steve Rush: Yeah, it is. I sense that as well, right. And here I sit as a white caucasian guy who has had no racial issues to deal with per se, right? Yet, I still feel there is that racially charged tendencies. In fact, there is this terminology, isn’t there? For people who are of my ethnicity called white fragility, where, you know, we’re not having the conversation because we’re almost afraid to. What’s your spin on that?

Crystal Robinson: For me, the people who are on that side, people like you, you shouldn’t have to carry that burden, it’s just like the Taliban. There’s a certain amount of people with money that are racist, but everybody has to pay the price for that. Do you understand what I’m saying?

Steve Rush: Absolutely.

Crystal Robinson: Just like certain amount of my population that might be thugs. That might be certain things, but all of us have to pay the price for that. But those people are louder than people like you.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Crystal Robinson: Heard more, and I think that when people stop having that fear and stop feeling guilty, you have nothing to feel guilty about, you know, but I think a lot of Caucasian people have a feeling of guilt and stand on the sidelines because I’ve had to really reconcile some of my friendships because I feel like some really powerful people stood on the sidelines and are standing on the sidelines that could expose this. And it would stop, but they have no interest in that because they’re not boat rockers. They keep going the way it is, it doesn’t matter that they hurt my career for no reason.

Steve Rush: The whole kind of racial tension that exists today seems to be far louder than it ever has been. And I remember, so I grew up in the outskirts of London, very diverse community, lots of different ethnicities in my community. I didn’t even know there was a racial issue until I probably hit high school, right. So, at what point do you think we’re going to actually have a face into this and deal with it or do you think we could ever deal with it?

Crystal Robinson: I think that there’s a group of people that doesn’t want it to change. It’ll take a lot of bravery on a lot of people’s parts for it to change. For some reason in society, there always has to be someone getting stepped on. I don’t know why that is. I saw something on the news the other day, not the other day. I saw it maybe today scrolling through on Instagram. And I saw where Mexicans were showing up down there, given the Haitian people water and food, lots of things that they were providing for those people. And I was just thinking it’s always the downtrodden that show up first because, no one’s more, you know, trying to cross the border or get into the United States or do, you know, more than Mexican people. So, for them to be down there helping the Haitians, it was amazing to me.

Steve Rush: Yeah, awesome. I think the more we can celebrate that and promote that, then the better it will be, right?

Crystal Robinson: You’re saying it so good. What you just said, what you said was basically, media publicizes the bad things. There’s not enough said about things like.

Steve Rush: That’s very true.

Crystal Robinson: They keep us at odds because that’s what you see. And I shared that story simply because, you know, I said, it’s not enough good things being shown in the world today. There are good things happening, so.

Steve Rush: Hallelujah to that, yeah. So, as you were growing your career in basketball, and as you becoming more successful, not only had to deal with the racial slurs, but internally there’s stuff going on for you, as you were trying to work out your own sexuality and having feelings for the same sex. Tell us a little bit about how you dealt with that kind of confusion and managed to come to terms with that and move forward in your life?

Crystal Robinson: Very sloppily, to able to figure those things out. I knew I was different; I knew it wasn’t accepted. I knew I lived in the Bible bell. I did go to church, and how are you supposed to be when everyone tells you your whole identity is something that you’re going to hell for? I mean, you know, it was a lot at that time. That’s all I could say. I didn’t really have anybody to talk to. I just went with it. But at a certain point, I just, you know, I think that you get to the point to where either I have one life to live, I’m going to live at the best way I possibly can. And the people who want to be friends with me will be friends with me and the people who won’t want. And that’s just life in general.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Crystal Robinson: I think that once you break it down to, you know, that simplicity of that, no one likes anybody a hundred percent of the time and no matter how good you are, some people are still not going to like you.

Steve Rush: It got so bad for you at one state though, you were seriously thinking about taking your own life, right?

Crystal Robinson: Oh, yeah.

Steve Rush: That doesn’t get any deeper than that, does it?

Crystal Robinson: On more than one occasion, I felt like that, you know, but I won’t say it’s because of the way people treated me, it’s because I just wanted to fit in. I didn’t want it to be different. I didn’t want this; I didn’t ask for it. It’s just who I was.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Crystal Robinson: I was born this way.

Steve Rush: And you still live-in rural Oklahoma. How have things changed for you? Are you more accepted by those same people? Have they become less bigoted and more educated? Tell us what that fell like for you now?

Crystal Robinson: I wouldn’t say that. Oklahoma is still about 25 years behind the rest of the world, you know, I have a group of people that are very educated. They travel, they do a lot of things and they don’t have no problems with it, but there’s always going to be a group of people who will have a problem with it, but won’t say it out loud. They might talk behind their back and stuff like that, but I don’t spend any energy worried about those people.

Steve Rush: Good, and also you can see it and spot it, can’t you? Because there’ll be little micro behaviors and micro language you’d spot, perhaps because you’ve had more experience of it than some. And therefore, you can make those choices, right?

Crystal Robinson: I think that for me, you know, being a professional athlete people that don’t even like you, still will come up to you and ask you for an autograph, you know, that’s just a kind of a part of the thing. I just kind of take it for what it’s worth, you know? And I think that’s one of the strengths that people should work on building is not really caring what other people think, you know, and living your life to the best of your ability for you.

Steve Rush: That’s really that easy to say though, right. But you’ve been in the public eye, you’ve been featured on TV. You’ve been, you know, press would have followed you. And that’s got to take some toll when that’s adverse commentary, right?

Crystal Robinson: Yes, it’s different. I tell you; I really took a completely different stance and approach as a pro athlete. I kind of immersed myself with the fans. They all knew who I was. They spent time with me. If they saw me, be like, oh, hey Crystal, I was around so much that they left me alone. I didn’t put a barricade between me and them to set myself apart to where they wanted to be around me. If you understand what I’m saying.

Steve Rush: Yeah, definitely, so, yeah.

Crystal Robinson: I gave them access, like after games, I might stay two hours and sign everybody’s autograph. And that way, when they see me with my family, it’s just, hey Crystal and they keep going. You know, I think that that’s one of the things that was just different about me. I love basketball. I love what I did. I was blessed to be able to do it, but that’s just what it was. It was a great talent. It doesn’t really change or sets me apart from people, on the fact that I had some really great experiences.

Steve Rush: I love the way you’ve approached that, by the way, because many people in the public eye aren’t accessible and actually become less accessible because of their publicity and their public figure. Whereas actually, I wonder if some of our pro sports people and actors and other people in the public eye, if they gave more of themselves to their fans and their public, whether or not they’d actually have much more of a peaceful life anyway.

Crystal Robinson: Well, you know, that is true. I agree with that. But at some point, some of these fans are not normal, right? I mean, I had a teammate named Debbie Black, this man had a whole sex change and change his name to Debbie White and sat outside and he stopped her.

Steve Rush: Oh dear.

Crystal Robinson: There is some danger to it.

Steve Rush: Sure.

Crystal Robinson: Oh, and you know, when you get a certain level, like I’m not a star to that point to where people are wanting anything like that, other than the autograph. But, you know, for some people, it is definitely dangerous. As little as I am, I just was, you know, it was inducted into the New York Liberty Ring of Honor. And a media person made up a bunch of lies and tried hard to tell me they wanted me to be in a documentary and all this stuff. My publicists kept telling me this stuff, but she didn’t have no credentials. So, a lot of the big things that she should have, so it just didn’t make sense to me. And she was not legit. So, stuff like that definitely happen.

Steve Rush: So, when I read your book, one of the things that struck me was there were, you know, paragraph after paragraph, there was real crappy experiences, lots of abusive relationships, lots of adversity, but on every occasion, you managed to find it in yourself to kind of lift above that and keep positive. Just for those listening to this who maybe are struggling to find themselves like you did. How did you manage to just keep that positivity?

Crystal Robinson: I think it’s probably sheer, what’s the word I’m looking for? Just the fact that I don’t ever like to give other people control over me. I can’t be anybody’s victim. So, I had to figure out a way to persevere and persevere in a way that I was still whole. I wouldn’t say that I found myself. I think I’m still finding myself every day; we grow and we change, but, you know, I didn’t want those experiences to control my life. And I think that when you get stuck in places, those experiences control your life.

Steve Rush: Yeah, I love that. Was there a particular time though for you, as you were coming to terms with who you are today and the great work that you do now, where you thought, yeah, I’m happy, I’m content. I’ve found myself for now. When was that moment?

Crystal Robinson: I would say I haven’t.

Steve Rush: Oh, great.

Crystal Robinson: I definitely different. There’re people who have the same jobs for 50 years. And I applaud them to be able to do that, but I’m not that kind of person. I’m the kind of person who I was great at sports. I mastered something in the business world, thought leadership world now, and I’m trying to master that. I’m pretty comfortable being uncomfortable. And for me, the experiences in life is not, I don’t want to be at the same job for 30 years. I want to experience as much as I can. So, lots of people look at that and they say, oh, you’re not settled, or you don’t do this, or you don’t do that. But you know for me, that’s how I choose to experience life.

Steve Rush: That’s fabulous, and the reality is of course, for those people who are comfortable and aren’t in control, probably aren’t actually growing as much as those that are restless and are comfortable being uncomfortable.

Crystal Robinson: I would really agree with that statement. I think that, you know, young ages at sports, I went away from my parents and stayed for long periods of time to be able to play basketball. And then I went to Europe, I played in Europe for eight years. I have had so many different kinds of experiences in so many different countries. And to me, that’s what life’s about. Like, I don’t have no opinion about Italy. If I can’t go there, I spent four years there. I live like the people, you know? And to me that’s where I found value in life.

Steve Rush: Yeah, can you knock up a great Italian pasta dish though?

Crystal Robinson: Oh, I can make, pasta, actually my own tomato sauce.

Steve Rush: Awesome.

Crystal Robinson: So, I lived in Italy. I actually had a translator my first year. And then the second year I was there, I stayed in that country for four years. One of my teammates was going to college to learn English. So, I helped her with English. I had a Spanish background, so it just kind of came together. And then by the end of that year, I was completely fluent. So, I loved Italy and most countries that I did play in, I just really tried to understand their culture and at least learn enough words to be able to live like them.

Steve Rush: Empathy is everything. So, you had a super pro career, then you coached pro basketball. So how much of that experience in your sporting life is now shaping your approach when you coach others?

Crystal Robinson: Well, I think that leadership is leadership. Like as a player, I was a leader on the team and I think that as a coach, I have the opportunity, you know, we kind of were trailblazers. There was no WNBA. We started something and these young players are figuring it out, you know. When I played, there was no free agency. Now there’s free agency. True free agency, where girls can go out and get their own endorsement deals. The league owned all our likenesses. So, we couldn’t shop our names around. So, there’s so many things that I still have a hand in with the younger generation, helping usher this end for them and help them make decisions that I still am highly involved in, in basketball.

Steve Rush: That’s great. So, on the basis, you’re still finding yourself, which I love by the way, what’s next for you?

Crystal Robinson: What’s next for you? We will see, I took a year off of work to promote this for basketball. To promote my book and who knows next year, I could end up back in basketball. But I only want to be back in basketball in an head coaching basis, just because it’s a lot of work at the pro level. You don’t really have a life; coach has a life because the assistants do all the work.

Steve Rush: But you’ve earned that even the ability to be able to pass on that knowledge and to help guide, and actually also helps other people lead in that space as well, doesn’t it?

Crystal Robinson: How much public speaking as I can possibly do. I like to influence, so those are probably the two things that I would end up in. I’m already public speaking. I do a lot of that. Next month, I’ll start doing a lot more of it. But eventually I’m sure basketball would probably call me back into it.

Steve Rush: Is it a bit of a drug for your, basketball?

Crystal Robinson: It used to be. Now is a completely different challenge. Now it’s a challenge of convincing people. As the head coaches about psychology, you have all these great players. Convincing them to give up seven shots and give up a $50,000 potential bonus to help your team win. Like it’s all psychology of moving people. And to me, that’s a great challenge. It’s easier to do things than it is to get people to do them. So, I’m still very driven towards perfection and figuring that out. And I think that, you know, as an assistant coach, most of the time I’ve been hired, it’s been because of my ability to problem solve and my ability to keep the locker room good. So, I’d like to try that from a head coaching angle.

Steve Rush: Cool, look forward to seeing you on the WNBA circuit soon then.

Crystal Robinson: Yes.

Steve Rush: Yeah, awesome. So now I’m going to turn the lens a little bit.

Crystal Robinson: Okay.

Steve Rush: Now you talked about leadership as a player and as a coach and having been a thought leader in your space as well. I’m going to ask you to try and think of, to distill all of those great leadership learnings that you have. And to narrow those down into your top three leadership hacks, what would they be?

Crystal Robinson: My top three leadership hacks. The first one, probably be, treat people how you want to be treated, you know, being relatable. I think that one of the things that I’ve learned as a leader now with this younger generation, if they don’t relate to you, you can’t convince them to do anything you want them to do. It’s going to be a fight and struggle with everything, you know, being relatable. Second thing I would say is, I was recently told by someone that I went into business with, you know, I’m a partial owner of a business and he told me, you can’t tell people what to do if you don’t know what to do. So, I suggest you get down there on the bottom level and learn what to do. So, I think, know what your employees are, what the people you’re leading have to do. So, you can go back to relate to them, to help them along to be able to do it a better way. And then I would say, make sure everyone, it’s not input. Everyone has to feel valued, you know, as a head coach in sports, you have this always a balancing act, you know, of treating everybody the same, but then you have players that score 30 points and you have player the score, no points, being able to make them feel important, no matter what their role is, I think is something that a leader should be able to do.

Steve Rush: Yeah, that’s great advice. It’s not all about scoring goals, isn’t it?

Crystal Robinson: Yes, not all about that. I’m telling you, the best teams I’ve ever played on. It was a bunch of mediocre players who completely knew their roles and work together to make it happen. And it takes good leadership, and for me, I was in college, I could average 65 points a game, but in games where I could score 10 points and we could still win, I’d give my teammates their opportunities to shine. So, when I take over games, they, got out the way and they were very conducive to what we were trying to do.

Steve Rush: The next part of the show Crystal, we call it Hack to Attack. So, this is typically where something in your life hasn’t worked out well. And we know already having learned some of the stories from you already in this short conversation and having read your book, you’ve had a bunch to choose from, but maybe if there was one experience in your life that was perhaps at adversity, but you now use that specific advent for something that’s positive in your life or work, what would be your Hack to Attack?

Crystal Robinson: I was drafted into the American Basketball League and I was almost the last pick taken because I ended up leaving the NCAA school and going to a really low-level school, but I was still beating everybody at a high level. The American Basketball League where I was rookie of the year, and I was first team, all everything, it folded after two years. And I had no idea what I was going to do with my life at that point. I had a teaching degree, but I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do. And then I got drafted in the sixth overall pick in the WNBA. Through that time period before that happened, I had gained some weight. I’ve kind of given up and whenever the WNBA came into play and I was the sixth overall draft, it just changed my life and my outlook on everything. And in terms of, you know, I almost given up hope, like I had been given this gift of basketball, and it would just snatch from me. I just made up my mind that, no matter what happened to WNBA, if anything ever happened, I was going to land on my feet and have a plan and be ready to go.

Steve Rush: Yeah, and sometimes it’s just being available and open to coincidence as well, isn’t it?

Crystal Robinson: Yeah, it is.

Steve Rush: Sometimes when you’re driving so hard to achieve things, you don’t often see what else is going on around you.

Crystal Robinson: And not being prepared for it.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Crystal Robinson: You know, I just thought it was going to last, you get caught up in that euphoria, just wasn’t prepared for it. When I retired from basketball, I retired at a very early age. I retired at the age of 34. I probably could have still played for four more years. But I knew basketball wasn’t what I was going to do forever. I’d done everything I could possibly do in it. And my body was sore, so I retired.

Steve Rush: Yeah, get out of the top. That’s what it’s about, right. So, if you could go back and meet Crystal at 21 and give her some advice, what would be your words of wisdom to her then?

Crystal Robinson: I think my words of wisdom would be, always be kind and never give up, even when you don’t see a way, don’t stop. That would be my advice to my young self.

Steve Rush: very profound, and indeed your pussy cat like that.

Crystal Robinson: She just got closed and now she’s making noise to get out.

Steve Rush: So, Crystal. Your book by the way, is a fantastic read. So, any of our listeners who want to get their hands on a copy of Finding Myself, where’s the best place for us to send them to? Not only get a copy of your book, but to learn a little bit more about the work you do now?

Crystal Robinson: or go to It’s a thought leadership platform where I speak for a foundation called Still Rose. I’m also on the board of a foundation called Code Red, it’s a foundation. It’s a lot to that foundation. One of them is sex trafficking. And one of them is school shootings. We designed an app that schools don’t have surveillance systems in them, but this app goes on teacher’s phones. And if in a situation like that, it turns into a surveillance system, it’s route it to a private company. And then I’m on a foundation of a board of Go Friends. You can also go to and read things about me. And basically, we go into prison systems, female prison systems, and we teach goal setting to try to help them when they get out of prison, hopefully they can stay out of prisons.

Steve Rush: You’re doing some fantastic work, honestly, from the journey you’ve been on, the adversity you’ve been through to now still being in the service of others. I just wanted to drop my hat and say, thank you. And thank you for being part of our community here on The Leadership Hacker Podcast.

Crystal Robinson: No, thank you so much for having me. These are the podcasts that I love. I would much rather prefer to talk about this stuff than basketball in general. So, thank you for having me.

Steve Rush: It’s our pleasure. Thanks Crystal.


Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler there: @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

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