I grew up an Indiana Hoosier and an enduring part of that heritage is a life-long love for basketball. Since moving to the Bay Area almost 30 years ago, I’ve been a consistent Golden State Warriors fan. Among the many, many wonders of this season of Warrior basketball is being able to watch Steve Kerr lead.
There are lots of things I could point to that make him my latest “leader crush,” but here are a few things I see him do that I think every leader can learn from:
1. Communicate strategy in simple, consistent and memorable messages — and repeat them over and over again.
Offense starts with great defense, pass up a good shot for a great one, work to make the most of every possession, share the ball, make the simple pass… just to name a few.
2. Emphasize what we are learning over what we are achieving — make adversity a virtue because of what it can teach us.
In nearly every post-game interview, regardless of the final score, Steve Kerr highlights what he hoped his team — players and coaches — learned from both their own mistakes and from challenging circumstances.
3. lluminate the “caught being good” moments — particularly in your role players.
Superstars are always going to get the spotlight and Steve Kerr certainly gives Steph Curry and Klay Thompson their due, but he also always, always points out the contributions of his role players — even when it’s the former All-Stars sitting and cheering from the bench.
4. Take work seriously enough to purposefully create space for fun and laughter.
Music at practice, the games of HORSE, the 3-point shooting competitions, the humor in pre- and post-game interviews — it’s clear that Steve Kerr understands that laughter and joy are essential to keep a team motivated, engaged and committed.
5. Put in the time to build a relationship with your team — and take the initiative to make it happen.
When Steve Kerr got the job and its attendant controversy, one of his first steps was to travel to meet every one of his players at home, showing his real respect for who they are as people not just the talent they bring to the team.
6. Staff yourself with people who are just as smart — if not smarter and more experienced than you.
Before he took the job, Steve Kerr made it clear that to be successful he needed to assemble an incredibly talented group of assistant coaches and staff. He did just that — and then made sure to let them do their jobs and listen to their counsel.
7. Know challenge is inevitable — your job as a leader is to help your team be emotionally resilient, move out of the blame game, and redouble their effort to do their best.
Many times during the regular season and during the playoffs, when other coaches seemed to be blaming officiating, miscues, or the competition, Steve Kerr’s huddle talks didn’t go down that path, but sounded something like this: “We knew it was going to be tough, we knew everything wasn’t going to go our way, our job now is to not get down on our selves, but to put in more effort.”
8. Instill in your team that winning at the highest level takes more than skill — it takes focus, heart, maturity, and passion — and model it yourself.
Throughout the long NBA season, Steve Kerr has pointed out again and again that every team in the NBA is full of amazing athletes getting paid millions of dollars to play basketball. What sets the champions apart from the rest is focus, heart, maturity and passion. And whether running practice, working with a slumping player, giving post-game interviews, or coaching from the sidelines at every game, Steve Kerr has quietly and consistently modeled these qualities.
I suspect Steve Kerr would be the first to give kudos to Joe Lacob, Peter Gruber, Bob Myers and the rest of the Warriors leadership for empowering him to lead — and I have great admiration for the organization they have built. But, at the end of the day, the head coach is the one who translates the vision, strategy, values and culture of the organization into the hard work of making a group of talented individuals into a team that can learn, grow, persevere, and win together.
I’m not ashamed to say I’ll be rooting for the Warriors to take home the championship this year. Even though I’ll never forget the 79 wins (so far) of this amazing season, what will endure with me even more is Steve Kerr’s very visible example of leadership. He inspires me as he clearly has inspired the Warriors. Go Golden State — and thank you Steve Kerr!