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Career Lessons from the NBA’s Sabrina Ellis: Lead with Honesty | Novid Parsi

According to Sabrina Ellis, truth telling may be an HR leader’s greatest power. During her 25 years in HR, Ellis says, she has aimed to lead with honesty and integrity.

“It has always been important to me to speak truthfully to everyone—leaders and employees,” she says. “Honesty requires courage because it’s not always easy, but it has always been my superpower.”

Ellis now wields that power as chief people officer of the NBA, a role she began in January. In one instance earlier this year, she had to explain to employees why the organization was asking its hybrid workforce to return to the office the same three days each week. Ellis found that frankly communicating the reason for this new policy—the ability to collaborate in person—helped get employees to agree to it. 

“When you’re honest about the reason, change management becomes that much easier for people to accept,” Ellis says.

‘Honesty requires courage because it’s not always easy,

but it’s always been my superpower.’ 

Encouraging two-way communication also helped. Ellis’ 75-member global HR team had heard from hybrid employees that they didn’t enjoy commuting to the office, only to be on video calls all day. So with the new policy, the organization also asked workers not to use Zoom during in-office workdays.

Ellis’ ability to listen and respond to employees has impressed her supervisor, Kyle Cavanaugh, the NBA’s president of administration. “Sabrina is decisive in making…

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