Confession: I’m not really a fan of basketball, and even less so a fan of the NBA. I am, however, a fan of Leaders in any arena, and this week’s issue of Sports Illustrated had an NBA story that managed to grab my attention because of the powerful message about leadership it carried.
As the NBA season concludes with a Finals matchup of the Cleveland Cavaliers facing the Golden State Warriors for the third year in a row, a crucial member of the Warriors (aka “The Dubs”) will be missing: their head coach, Steve Kerr, who has been out indefinitely since very early in the playoffs due to health issues. That the Warriors haven’t lost a single game in the playoffs despite Kerr’s absense is even more amazing than the three-year run of dominance Kerr has guided the Warriors to since taking over as coach three years ago (his first professional coaching gig, BTW…).
This juxtaposition of a flawless playoff run with a team suffering the absence of its incredibly successful head coach is at the heart of the question that frames the entire SI article:
How can a coach be both essential and unnecessary?
There’s no online version to link to, unfortunately. To read the article, you’ll have to spring for the magazine like in the old days. But, here are a couple of the choice leadership nuggets that jumped off the page at me.
From Kerr’s own words:
Some people are just so tunnel vision all the time and “I’m going to succeed and kick ass in life,” and they just trample over everyone. The people to me who are the most powerful leaders are the ones who have great talent in whatever their field is, great conviction in their ability to teach it and act it, but an awareness and a humility and compassion for others.
And from the words of Chris Ballard, the article’s author:
You know the references to leadership rules and secrets mentioned earlier? Kerr would find them hilarious, invoking one of his favorite words: bull—-. The message is only good if you believe the messenger, right? And Kerr believes humans are adept at sniffing out bull—. So, no, he has no leadership secrets.
You want to lead like Kerr? Just be humble and grateful, curious and self-aware. Communicate, value family and empower others. When bad things happen, keep a broader perspective. Most of all, create something bigger than yourself, for as Keltner points out, the real test of a leader is what happens once they leave.
Which is to say that the reasons Kerr is so important to the Warriors are not all that complicated. They are the same reasons the team is doing fine without him.