In this episode, host John Laurito sits down and chats with Writer, Speaker, Podcaster, and Commissioner of the National Basketball League of Canada about his life and how he lives boldly. They also talk about the most important factor of becoming a better leader: listening. So if you’re up for another insightful episode about life in general, this one’s for you.
Audley Stephenson is the vice president of basketball operations of the National Basketball League of Canada (NBL Canada) and has been an energetic ambassador since the league’s inception in 2011.
NBL Canada has the distinction of being Canada’s longest-running professional basketball league.
He held various roles within the league before unanimously being appointed to the board of directors in May 2021. Audley oversees all league/basketball day-to-day and game-day operations and business development support.
Audley is an experienced podcaster and currently produces and hosts “The Audacious Living Podcast” where he sits down with a cross-section of top-quality performers in business, media, sports, entertainment, and lifestyle to uncover critical elements to help listeners live their best audacious life ever.
Audley is an exceptional communicator and professional speaker specializing in helping others recognize their inner greatness and live an audacious life of boldness.
He’s also worked in the public service since 1996 with both the federal and provincial government in a variety of project management roles, including but not limited to stakeholder management, negotiations, monitoring, supervision, and leadership.
Connect with Audley at:
[1:52] On being the Commissioner of the NBL Canada
[6:17] How did Audley become the Commissioner?
[10:27] The concept of just letting go
[12:20] What is audacious living?
[14:07] Fighting through the fear, doubt, and uncertainty
[21:07] How a leader can become a better leader
[26:06] Where to find more of Audley
John Over the last two decades, I’ve been in an insatiable quest to learn everything I can about leadership, what makes the best leaders so good after running companies small and large over the last 20 years. Today, I speak on stages all across the world to audiences who are interested in that same question. My name’s John Laurito. I’m your host, and I invite you to join me on this journey as we explore this very topic and what makes the best leader so good. Welcome to tomorrow’s leader!
John All right, tomorrow’s leaders we have got Audley Stevenson on the show today and how he and I met as he invited me to be a guest on his podcast. And we had such a great conversation and just got into so much stuff. I’m like, Wow, this guy would be great on my podcast. So he’s got a really, really cool background. You’ll hear it. He’s the commissioner of basically the NBA up in Canada. But really cool story as to how he got into it. And I think just life lessons for everybody in this podcast. I loved, loved, loved talking to him. So I think you’ll love listening to him here is Audley.
John All right. Welcome to today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader, where we dove deep on all things leader-related, related to leaving yourself and leading others. I’m John the reader, your host. I’ve got a great guest today. I’ve been we’ve been trying to set this up and my issues on my end, trying to get oddly not connected. But I’ve got Audley Stevenson, who is the commissioner of the Professional Basketball Association in Canada, the NBL in Canada. He’s a podcaster, a writer, a speaker, an influencer. All kinds of great stuff, Audley. Thanks for joining today, man.
Audley John, it’s great to be here. Thank you for having me in your house. I know. Well, you know, I had your my podcast. We do swap here, which is great. I love the topic of leadership. It’s something that charges me a little bit, so I’m pleased to sit down and chat with you a bit more on this.
John Well, you know, and again, I appreciate it because you’ve got so much to offer. You do so much in your world and in your life and your influence and a lot of people and organizations. So you’re really the perfect person to talk to. I know my listeners are going to get a lot from our our conversation and listening in. Let’s start with I just the fact of you being commissioner of the NBA, that’s a big deal. I mean, tell us about that. I know you’ve been doing it for 10 years now.
Audley Yeah, leagues are ten years in operation, you know? And you know, we will eventually talk about audacious this and what that means. But I think for me, a big part of that is so leading with your passion, right? So everything that you do starts with your passion. And I look, I love basketball as a kid. Growing up, I never played any super high level outside of being a local playground legend where I grew up. But that was the extent of my, you know, my basketball career. But I still love the game and that love for the game. I always felt I was out because I love the game. I was always finding ways to kind of be as close to it as possible, and it was even funny.
Audley You know, when I think about that, that even that the lesson that, you know, if we can find ways to stay as close to our dreams as we can, you know, great things can happen. And so for me, it was like, you know, hey, I love the game, how can I be a part of it? And I got into the podcasting game if you will, and I started playing. I actually used to have an NBA podcast back in like, oh, seven. I mean, now these days, everyone’s got a podcast or like a business card, right? But back in 2007, that wasn’t the case. And what made our podcast unique is that, you know, basketball as a get, you know, the Raptors weren’t particularly great, so they didn’t have a following. They hadn’t won championships yet. So, you know, that explosion hadn’t taken place. And so we were considered a couple of guys doing this podcast about basketball and we’re from Canada. And, you know, people kind of, you know, it was actually it worked our advantage because that kind of resonated with people because I didn’t understand how that was even possible, but we made it work. And so we had this great podcast.
Audley We had NBA guests. We had, you know, all sorts of meet people, come on the show. I remember Jaleel White from Family Matters. Steve Urkel was a guest. We talked about NBA hoops, so it was a really just fun podcast. And in 2011, when it coincided with the year that the NBA account has started, the NBA was in a lockout. Now when you’ve got and again, you know, things are very different now than back then, you know? You know, now if there’s a lockout, you’re not worried about content. You still because of social media, you know, you know, players out for breakfast. You know what color the shoelaces are. You know, you can still have, you know, lots of content at your disposal. Back then, that wasn’t the case. And so we thought I thought, Well, you know, what are we going to do to sort of fill that gap and fill that void? I’m like, Hey, NBL, can the is a basketball league encounter that’s happening?
Audley Why don’t we switch over to this new realm? And we jumped over, and I essentially said, Hey, I do this port basketball thing in the NBA world. What can I do for you? You’re brand new. Yeah, I knew they didn’t have it because there were brand new. So I really saw where my opportunity was, and I found my gap and I was essentially my mission. Overtime? You know, I’ll give you the bridge. You know, the, you know, the Coles-built version, if you will. But over time, I found ways to become deeper and deeper involved with the organization. I became more reliable, trusted. Is people’s confidence, and I grew in the organization, you know, and fast forward 10 years. I now sit at an organization that I approach as a volunteer, and so that’s part of my journey. But I think what was left on that journey, I’ll go back to the point I made. It was my passion. I said, Let’s try this. Let’s do this because of the love of the game that I had, and now the rest is history.
John Well, I love it. First of all, I can tell you’re super passionate about, I mean, you’re just, you know, you’re for those that are listening. I mean, you got this big, booming smile and energy about you. So I like you and you can’t fake that. That’s authentic. And so it tells me you’re in the sweet spot of life. I mean, you were doing exactly what you’re meant to be doing. What I find really interesting is, you know, it almost it’s funny because I think people think about, Hey, I want to here’s my vision. I want to be the commissioner of, you know, like a basketball, you know, professional basketball league or football or something, whatever it might be. And whatever it is, what’s the path to get there with you? It sounds like it almost happened by just natural circumstance of saying, Hey, I want to be surrounded, I want to dove into what I’m passionate about. Do you have 10 years ago an idea that you’d be the commissioner?
Audley No clue. John. Absolutely no clue. In fact, that hey, quick story. So during that time, as I was getting deeper involved with the organization and again, the idea hadn’t been, well, this is where I want to be. That was the furthest thing from my mind. I just knew that I wanted to be around it. And I believe in what they were doing. I wanted to support the league in any way possible. So I threw in all my energy and all my passion and everything into it. I poured into the league and through that process, I started to become. I started to work closer and closer with different individuals. Some of the teams and even the executives. And as time went on, I kind of sort of seek my way into the boardroom and I start to listen to hear and learn and understand and gain this whole insight about the business operation of basketball. And that started to grow.
Audley And I’ll never forget the moment when I got to a point where I just had all this knowledge and all these inside, and I was contributing ideas and everyone had a good relationship and everyone loved me and I loved them and we had these big things in mind. The person who sat the commissioner was the end of his. You just knew he was. At the end of his agreement, his contract had run out and he was looking to to move on. And they were negotiating about, you know, how can we get you to stay? And he was from the U.S. America originally. So, you know, coming to Canada away from his family, he was kind of thinking about those things. So he had this pull to kind of go back home, so to speak. But he, at the same time, wanted very much to be here. He and I were very good friends.
Audley I’d worked closely with him and he went to these suits negotiating with the board of directors. And he said to the board, You know what? This is a really big job. If I had a deputy commissioner that worked alongside with me, that would make a huge difference. And I really think, you know, we can do some special things. So yeah, they went off to sort of think about that and my name came up and they approached me and said, You know, how do you what do you think about this? And it’s really interesting. I was at a sort of a turbulent point in my personal life. I was going through a divorce and I was kind of at that point where I was, I was kind of fighting this, you know, this inevitability of the end of this relationship. And I was kind of fighting. And I remember.
Audley And I think it was a Friday that I was approached the Thursday. I kind of came to the conclusion like this thing I’m trying to fight. You just got to let it go. It’s as much as I want to hold on to it. It’s not there for me anymore. And I made a conscious decision on Thursday to let go on Friday. I get this call saying, Hey, do you want to be the deputy commissioner? And I vividly remember saying, Well, let me think about it over the weekend because I really didn’t know what I hadn’t thought about it. I couldn’t see myself in that role. And before I hung up the phone, I’m like, What are you doing? Like, this is a tremendous opportunity. What is there to think of heart, right? But you know, the big lesson in that was, you know, the whole idea here I’m going through is personal turmoil.
Audley And it’s like, I couldn’t receive the great things that were intended to me for me. And so I let go of what was holding me back. And that was a tremendous lesson. The other part about it, too, that helped make this story interesting is after I said yes, I’ll accept the role as a commissioner or deputy commissioner. The commissioner made the actual commissioner, made the decision to go back home to be with his family. So he left and essentially I was a commissioner as a result of just saying, you know, he so I said yes to a role and got something more than I ever imagined. And the ride has been great ever since I saw lots of learning, lots of lessons, lots of bumps and bruises. No question about that. I wouldn’t say it was an easy pathway, but it’s been one that I’ve learned and. You know, its experience teaches you much.
John Mean, well, first of all, I so much there and congratulations on everything. I great congratulations on getting that opportunity. It’s one thing to get it, but to really do something with it and what you’ve done, obviously, which that’s tremendous. I love the concept and I don’t think many people realize this, that when you are holding on to stuff, whether it’s anything, it creates stress and just it occupies mental space. Yeah. And most people don’t realize that that does prevent you from having other things. That’s right in your life. It really does, right? I mean, it’s right. It prevents you from seeing things. It prevents you from taking actions that will open up doors for you, prevents you from just creating the mental space to think about things differently.
John And I’ve been there personally myself with, yeah, when I’ve made a decision that has closed out a chapter of my life, it has been remarkable at what that has done and people, you know, it’s like and I’ve seen this analogy in action where people hold somebody holds out a glass of water, you know, and it’s like, it’s a little thing. All anybody can pick up a glass of water. But if you hold it at an arm’s length for an hour, it becomes heavy. That’s right, it feels like it’s 25 pounds. That’s correct. And if you hold it out there for six hours, it’s, you know, so the same small thing when you hold on to it for an extended period of time, it drains you, waits on you, and prevents you from things like that. So I love that concept.
Audley You know, well, it holds back the, you know, that often does topple the greatness that was intended to receive, right? I truly believe that had I been devoting my energy to my mental capacity to try to fix something that couldn’t work, I couldn’t receive what was waiting for me. Right? I had to let go to get and ensure it’s really easy after the fact to come to the epiphany and realization. And in the mind, we all we’ve all been in these moments where it was so challenging and hard. But there needs to be a belief that and to know that we’re intended for better, we’re intended for great things. We just have to be able to receive and be ready to receive it and love it.
John You talk a lot about audacious living. What does that mean? What is that like a concept?
Audley It’s a way of life. You know you can talk, you can insert the word bold. I don’t. I’m not particularly a fan of talking about taking chances because I truly believe that if you’re being audacious, you’re being true to yourself and who you’re supposed to be. And if you’re being true to yourself, you’re never taking a chance. So I’m very careful when I talk about boldness and chance, the risk that you know you’re not taking a chance when you’re being who you’re supposed to be in life. And I truly think that we’re all meant to be this individual. That means you’re an individual. We just have to go after and get it and take that step forward. And oftentimes, when we take that first initial step, you know, you think back, even you take a couple of steps back, John, to before you take that step, you think of all the fears and the doubts and uncertainties and all that is in our heads about, you know, why we can’t do it or why we shouldn’t do it, or why it’s not the right thing for us. But when we take that chance and we take that step and we take that first that launch forward, you know, that’s the beginning of all kind of great things. And you know, the expression every great journey begins with that first step, but we’ve got to be bold and audacious enough to actually take that step to go on that journey.
John So you got a lot of people that are listening right now saying, Oh man, I feel like he’s talking to me. I mean, I know I need to do this. I need to take this next step. However, it is. Maybe it’s a job opportunity. Maybe it’s starting a new career, a new path, or a new relationship. Whatever it is, know anyone. But it’s one thing to know it and to think it and be like, Yeah, he’s right. I get to do this. But to actually do it and do that rigor is really always for this stuff, right? And it’s just that thought of it’s the thought of all the things that could possibly go wrong. Oh yeah.
Audley You know, we’ve got them all in here. All the things that can go wrong. Mess us up. Oh yeah, we’ve got them in our heads when we’ve got to fight through that. We’ve got to get passed on the other side because on the other side of that fear, doubt, and uncertainty, I believe in what I preach is that’s where the greatness lies, right? You can’t achieve any level of greatness without coming through some difficult rough patch of some sort. But it’s worth I can’t use the analogy of a boulder in our path, right? There’s a boulder in our pathway and it’s our job to get whether it’s up over around, through whatever. But we got to get to the other side because that’s where the true greatness lies.
John It’s interesting. I really and I believe in that 100 percent, you know, when when you’re in a situation, you know, before I left my nice, cushy, secure job, you know, I thought. I was at a certain level I thought I was. I knew I could do more. I didn’t know I could do better, but it was scary. It was really scary taking. Yes, yes. What I realized, though, is once I did that, there was a whole different version of myself that existed that I didn’t even know. I had no idea. And it wasn’t until I let go of that security and threw that security blanket away and said, Hey, I’ve got to do this, I got to take a chance. Now don’t know what it’s going to look like exactly. And it’s okay. I think I think that’s a good message. And when I hear you say when you took that leap and kind of close the door on that, you know, ended something you knew wasn’t going to work. You don’t necessarily know what things are going to look like, but you have to have some level of blind faith and the best version of you will come out when you’re three times in that uncomfortable. Yeah, just OK. I don’t know what is going to happen.
Audley And you know what, John oftentimes happens. We get a lot of markers and we get a lot of signals, and sometimes they come from other people because others can easily identify the greatness that lies within us. Oftentimes, before we do so, the same way that the, you know, the board of directors, you know, the chair came to me, he saw it well before I did. Another quick story I’ll show is during the time I was, you know, this volunteer of, you know, I was a volunteer for several years. I had a dear friend of mine. His name was Rick, and Rick was a professional golfer, but he was also a big basketball enthusiast. Our daughters, you know, played at the same rep team for several years. And so we kind of, you know, we followed each other and so he’d be hit. He’d become a friend of mine over a series of several years.
Audley He, unfortunately, took ill with cancer. I got pancreatic cancer battling it, and it is these days certainly were numbered and we knew we’d come to terms with that quite some time ago. But, you know, he very much was very energetic and passionate about life. And I remember once and Bill Cannon was holding a draft. I saw Rick would love this. I’ll bring him up to the draft and he actually soaked it up. He got to meet the players. He got to, you know, he was always giving advice or he’s talking to people, and he was in his element. And I remember we were driving back home and he was all. Jack was all excited. And he said to me, You know, Audley I can see you one day running this league, and again, this is the furthest wasn’t even there. I had no idea. No clue.
Audley No, I said, Yeah, sure. I said, Sure, no problem, Rick. And it started to then become a regular conversation between him and me. He would talk about, Hey, why don’t you think about this? Why don’t you approach it? Have you thought about that? And it was, but it was continuous. And I remember even as his illness progressed, you know, he would still call me like once a week and talk about different ideas. And at this point, you know, I’m entertaining him. But I also, you know, I’m more focused on his health. But, you know, he was really passionate about this. Unfortunately, he passed away before he could actually see the realization of what he saw come to life.
Audley And I remember sort of having them all going, Man, I really wish Rick was able to see this and make it sort of stopping myself. And I realized he already did see it. He saw a long table. You saw it before me. He didn’t need to be here to see if he saw it before. And so again, you know, we get these, we get these indicators from other people that are can see the full are our full perspective. Sometimes a view of our own selves is limited, but the outside view is fantastic. And so even when we’re in that moment when we’re feeling when people start to encourage you and people are saying, yeah, you should pay attention because they can see something that we can always
John that’s first of all, that’s really touching story. And that’s and you’re so right. You know, people sometimes see those things that we just can’t. Yeah, I got also great advice one time a long time ago from somebody who said, you know what we sometimes get? And this person was speaking to me is that you’re so focused, maniacally so on what you’re trying to do. That’s OK. But it’s also bad because you put the blinders on and you just don’t say yes. He said. You’ve got to actually pay attention to the signs out there, the things that are going to be put in front of you that if you’re so myopically focused and maniacally focused on one thing, you’re going to listen. And if it’s current, you know you’re in a boat in the currents, taking you a certain different direction. Sometimes you have to pay attention to that and say, All right, let me see what’s over here. That’s right. But I love that, and that’s something I think as leaders we can do for other people too. We don’t realize, I’m sure, Rick. You know, I’m sure he does and knows what’s happening is, you’re right, he saw it and he’s there in spirit.
John But there are also other there are people things that we see in others and sometimes we don’t say some had Rick never said something to you.
Audley That’s right. That’s right.
John Maybe you wouldn’t be doing what you’re doing. That’s right. No, you take. That little push, and that’s somebody saying, Hey, you know what, you’d be great at this, right?
Audley So right, not you’re right. And I think that’s and I think, as you say, that that is a reminder to me how important it is that if we have an opportunity to, you know, pass on a word of encouragement, give kindness support in some way. We should take advantage of it because we have no idea, you know, at that moment what it means that individual and whether in your you’re in a leadership role or not. Quite frankly, I think that’s a sign of leadership being able to do that, to build up others, to support them, to lift them up. I think that’s a tremendous leadership trait, an important one, because the others, you know, we talk about the others, the others that are around us, you know, help. They support the leadership framework, right? If you don’t have the others, who are you leading? I mean, you can lead yourself, but you know you have others that you need to be a part of this journey with you. So absolutely, if you can take advantage to do that, by all means, I think you’re on the right path.
John Yeah. What are some of the other ways that leaders can learn to become better leaders? One is, you know, being in a role, obviously is going to develop you and everything. But you know what? What do you suggest or what do you do to become better at what you’re doing and better at influencing people and impacting organizations?
Audley No one is listening. I think listening is key. Hearing what people are saying, not necessarily even just about you, about the organization, how they feel about it, how they perceive it, you know, this year and beyond. Canada is celebrating its 10th year of operation and which is a big deal in Canada because there hasn’t been a league in Canada that’s been long around as long as we have. And so it’s a really big deal. And so when I when I’m with our staff, we’re talking about it like I’m listening to him talk about how special it is, how important it is and how good of a job that we’ve all got to do to elevate this year. Well, that’s important, you know, hearing that is important for me because then I need to understand and know nothing. I didn’t. But you know what is important to us collectively is all we need to be doing. And so, you know, listening has tremendous, tremendous advantages and benefits.
Audley And just being able to check the Pulse, have a gauge, check yourself even like, I mean, and sometimes feedback isn’t always easy to hear from on ourselves. But I think we need to be open with, you know, Hey, how am I doing? Check-in with people right and be prepared to accept what comes your way. It may not all be rosy, and it might be really honest, and I might cut you a little bit, but I think those are important things that we need to hear to get better. So, I mean, for me, when I talk about learning, listening, absolutely, you know, paying attention to sort of those before us, like, you know, people ahead of us have forged trails and pathways for us, for, you know, for for a reason. And I think it’s important that we pay attention to whether they’re successes. I like to really pay attention to why people didn’t succeed and why they missed the mark. I noticed I didn’t say the word failure, right?
Audley Why they missed the mark. Why didn’t they get where they wanted to? Like what prevented them? You know, and I think if you can walk from those that you walk away from those situations with the lesson, you didn’t fail. You know, you just didn’t have enough time to to to to to get what you needed to get to. I don’t remember the movie Coach Carter, the basketball coach. I heard him react very reason. I heard him say that he’s the only coach in the world that’s never lost. I’ve never lost a game. I just ran out of time. I never lost, right? And that’s exactly it. Like, you keep going and it’s not failure. It’s OK. Let me. I missed my mark. Let me keep it ongoing. So and so listening, absolutely paying attention to to to, you know, past lessons of the two big ones I would hone in on.
John I love it, and you’re so right. You know, it’s a never-ending journey. You’re always going to get better and better. And there are things that you’re going to see. And I really love that you’re going to hear and observe and listen and take things that you wouldn’t have gotten before. Insights you wouldn’t have had ideas, you wouldn’t have had perspectives and wouldn’t have. And as you know, the old very not used enough saying goes, you got two years and one uses them and proper proportion, which I also learned it.
Audley That’s good. But I would also say to an important aspect, and especially we talk about the listening and the feedback thing is the environment that leaders create, right? It’s got to be conducive and allow for that safety that if I say to my manager, my boss, my supervisor, you know, in a respectful fashion, obviously, you want to maintain that, but be able to give feedback, knowing that it’s safe, knowing that there’s no reprimand, knowing that it won’t be, you know, held over my head. I think that’s also a really, really key aspect of, you know, what leaders can do. So you’ve got to. So it’s not just enough to say give. Your feedback, give me your feedback, give me your feedback. It’s going to create that environment where it’s safe to give feedback.
John Yeah, that’s such a good point. I remember and this goes back a lot of years, a number of years, but I remember a leader who was very much vocal about, Hey, I want feedback and one feedback. I really got your input. And there was one situation where he referenced in a third-party way somebody who would give me feed, given his feedback, and he was kind of very negative about that person. Hey, you know, they don’t really know what they’re talking about. It was a small comment, but I remember talking to him afterward. I’m like, You don’t realize that comment there, even though it wasn’t directly directed to that person, they just assumed that, OK, why would I give him feedback if this is the way he responds to it? So that stuff that we might say one thing, but it’s all stuff we do that might, you know, lays down that feedback loop.
Audley So you’re right. All right.
John Great stuff, Audie. This is absolutely phenomenal. I could talk to you for hours. You also have information. I know there are a lot of people out there that might want to learn more about you. You’ve got your podcast. Obviously, there are other ways people can connect with you if they want more of, oddly, what do they do?
Audley Thank you. I’ve resolved John, and it’s great to be here. Thank you for, you know, laying the foundation and, you know, making it easy to have these discussions and share these ideas again. I just gave the example of how important it is for leaders to, you know, create an environment and that’s exactly what you’ve done through your platform. So congratulations to you. As a fellow podcaster, I know I know what the journey can be like and whether it’s technical or guest booking or whatever. I get it. So, you know, congratulations. My podcast is the Audacious Living podcast. I actually am very close to reaching a hundred episodes, which is a big deal and you know, to get that kind of milestone, which is nice. But yeah, you know, again, we talk about all sorts of great principles. Invite wonderful guests. My website is bestaudaciouslife.com.
Audley That’s where you can sort of connecting with me, you know, like my socials and all those sorts of things are there as well. Active on Instagram these days, a lot of basketball stuff is, you know, again, I’ve got to support my brand and build cabinets. That’s a big part of what I’m doing. But you know, these conversations and dialogs and discussions are very, very important to me. Some ways I sort of feel like I lead two separate lives here, the sports world and sort of this, you know, the self-development space. But it’s a place I’m very comfortable in. Both I invite conversation. I encourage connection. I think it’s great. I think that’s how we learn, grow and develop together. And quite frankly, you know, I don’t know-how. I don’t know how else you know, you can make us, you know, a more audacious play. So by all means, connect with me. I’ll be happy to chat.
John I love it. I love it. Well, you’ve been a fantastic guest. Greatly appreciate you. Join in. And for all of you out there will have all that info in the show notes. So you can go check out Audrey’s podcast, his website. All the information will be there right in the show notes. And we’ve been here today with Audley Stevenson, who is the commissioner of the NBL Canada podcast to writer speaker, influencer. Great guest. I’m very interested in your ideas for future guests as well as the content of this show. As always, like share, subscribe, and go down below. Give a five-star review and thanks for joining everybody. And Audley, thanks again.
Audley Thanks, John. Appreciate it.
John Thanks for joining us on today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader for suggestions or inquiries about having me at your next event or personal coaching, you can reach me at John@johnlaurito.com. Thanks, lead on!