Forgive me for this: I can’t resist.
I’m writing this note in the midst of San Francisco Bay Area’s giddy euphoria over the Golden State Warriors winning the National Basketball Association Championship for the first time in 40 years (Moses had nothing on us).
Yes, it’s a moment to gloat and rejoice. But it’s also an experience filled with lessons for business leaders. If there is one common theme running through all the newspaper columns and the speeches about the Warriors’ victory, it is how selfless the team members – and the coaching staff – have been all season long.
Yes, Stephen Curry was the league’s Most Valuable Player for the season. And he won the All-Star three-point shooting contest. He’s a genuine superstar – and he is certainly the team’s day-in-day-out leader on and off the court. But he is also genuinely humble. In the words of SF Chronicle sportswriter Ann Killion:
In his six seasons he has changed the perception of the Warriors. He’s aesthetically a joy to watch play, like [Willie] Mays [of the San Francisco Giants – baseball] and [Joe] Montana [San Francisco forty-Niners – football]. He’s likable and humble and has broken the mold of what an NBA player looks and plays like.”
Most of the front-page pictures of the championship team feature Curry. But most of the praise was about the way he shares the ball, often passing off even when he has a good shot. While Curry averaged 24 points per game over the season, he also produced almost 8 assists per game. And his sharing the glory sets the tone for the whole team.
Yes, it was fun watching Curry knock down all those three-point shots, but it was far more rewarding to see the Warriors passing the ball so quickly you could hardly follow it, and you had to wonder how they found each other so open. Scoring was incredibly balanced across the team, and the leading scorer was different almost every night.
That degree of unselfishness included (and no doubt started with) the coaching staff. Steve Kerr, in his first year as an NBA head coach, relied heavily on his assistants throughout the season. He was first and foremost a listener.
In fact, the boldest and most successful move he made during the Finals was to bench Andrew Bogut, the number one pick in the 2005 NBA draft and the Warriors’ starting center for the entire 2014-2015 season, in favor of Andre Iguodala, a smaller, more nimble player, for the final three games. That decision came after Game three, when the Warriors were down two games to one.
Why is that such a big deal? The idea of starting Iguodala in place of Bogut came from Nicholas U’Ren, a young special assistant to the head coach. U’Ren is not even a regular member of the coaching staff, but Kerr listened to him, thought through his suggestion, and took a huge chance by abandoning the starting lineup that had recorded a 67-15 regular season record, the best in the league.
And Steve Kerr not only listened to Nick U’Ren, he gave him full credit. As Yahoo Sports reported,
He’s behind the bench, he’s 28 years old, he’s a kid,” Kerr said. “We have a staff that is very cooperative. Whoever has the idea, it doesn’t matter. And he brought me the idea.”
Iguodala was as much a contributor to the Warriors’ culture and style as Curry. A former All-Star, 10-year NBA starter, and a Gold Medal Olympian before he came to the Warriors, Iquodala agreed to a nonstarter role (for the first time in his career) at the beginning of the season.
And as frustrated as Andrew Bogut must have been when he lost his starting role in the Finals, he never once complained publicly or challenged the decision. The team’s focus on winning as a team is remarkable.
It is also notable that Stephen Curry did not receive a single vote for Finals MVP, while Andre Iguodala was the first NBA player ever to win the series MVP while not starting every game.
The lessons for business leaders are as clear as can be:
- No one individual is smarter or more capable than the team as a whole;
- A leader’s role is to leverage the talents of everyone on the team;
- Make sure you have input from everyone before you make decisions affecting everyone;
- Lead by listening; and
- When the team wins the leader has led.
Remember that your task as a leader is not to make others do what you want; it is to make them want what you want. And the best way to make people want what you want is to share your vision, share your power, ask them to step up, and get out of their way.
Contact me for a free consultation about how you can create workplace conversations that create shared leadership and success. And ask me about how you can join my ongoing monthly “Talking About Tomorrow” open conversation series.