Five thoughts on leadership, featuring Steve Kerr, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner

Leadership lessons with Steve Kerr

Last summer I read this article in Sports Illustrated on Steve Kerr, head coach of the Golden State Warriors and, from all accounts, an excellent leader and all-around wonderful human being. It’s a great article on leadership, his approach to coaching the Warriors, and how the health challenges Kerr faced last year (complications from back surgery) have forced him to reevaluate things. One part has stuck with me; the author, Chris Ballard, shares with Kerr five practices of exemplary leaders, as defined by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner in their book The Leadership Challenge.

I’ve been thinking about leadership a lot lately as that’s where I’m finding my passion as my career evolves. Here are my five quick thoughts on those five practices:

1. Model the Way (set an example for how you want others to act).

Leading by example should be the easiest of these leadership practices, but it’s one I see so many managers and leaders fail at. I’m not sure why. I think a lot of it has to do with simply slowing down, and considering your actions and your words and thinking, how would I respond if others acted this way? If your response is negative, then reconsider your approach.

2. Inspire a Shared Vision (get buy-in for a common goal and believe in it passionately).

I think a lot of leaders find this one daunting, because they don’t feel they are inspiring and because the word “vision” itself can seem intimidating; after all, most jobs are just that, jobs, and don’t exactly inspire great visions. But succeeding at this one starts with a combination of modeling the way, and of setting team goals, with well-defined objectives and clear expectations for all team members. No grand vision required: just a path to success.

3. Challenge the Process (see risks as opportunities).

Ah, the one every leader likes to say, and most want, but few can actually do, especially in large organizations. Creating actual change can be extremely difficult, and politics and hierarchies often throw up roadblocks that force people into the same patterns and bad habits. The important thing is for leaders to avoid throwing up their hands in frustration. Do that behind closed doors. When your team comes to you and their struggling to move forward, use the “Yes, and…?” approach to acknowledge their challenge and encourage them to think of solutions.

4. Enable Others to Act (empowering those around you).

This is the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning. Sometimes it’s easy, when you have those go-getters on your team who know exactly what they want and all you need to do is say “yes, go.” The challenge is helping those who don’t know what they want, figure it out. To me, that comes with getting to know people, caring about them, listening to them—even, and perhaps especially, when they’re not talking about work or their career or ongoing development. And then start with providing ownership of little things. Make them responsible for updating a report each month. Have them attend a meeting instead of you. And grow those responsibilities over time.

5. Encourage the Heart (focus on the humanity of people, and make them “feel like heroes”).

I am finding that even though organizationally, businesses are getting a bit better at focusing on employees as human beings, in marketing, we might be going in the opposite direction. We’ve placed such an emphasis in the last 10-15 years, with the advent of digital marketing, on data and measurable results that some of the “soft skills” are being ignored. As a leader I think the most important thing you can for your team is have their back. Recognize them when they succeed (especially in front of others, where appropriate) and use constructive feedback and positive reinforcement to put them back on the path to success when they fail.

—–

None of this is rocket science; it usually all comes down to communication and consistency. But I do think it’s important to stop and remind ourselves of these things every once in a while; even the most experienced leader can lose sight of them.

Five thoughts on Game 4: Warriors 117, Raptors 112

Toronto Raptors at Golden State Warriors Oct 25

Five thoughts on the Raptors’ tough loss to the reigning NBA champs:

  1. Kyle Lowry continues to struggle for the Raptors, and I’m starting to worry. This team isn’t going anywhere if its best player continues to average 13 points on 38% shooting, 28% from three, and a PER of 12. I hope it’s rust, and that he shakes it off soon. The rest of the starters seem to be settling in; DeMar DeRozan is shooting 50%, Serge Ibaka is shooting 40% from deep (although my God Serge, pass the ball sometimes, man), and Norman Powell—while still not scoring much—is making positive plays in limited minutes. But Lowry is the weak link right now, and that’s a recipe for disaster.
  2. Jakob Poeltl watch: Came in in the first quarter, immediately got two offensive rebounds, a steal and two buckets off of great passes from CJ Miles. And did you see that play in the fourth where he set the screen on a Lowry PNR, Lowry missed a three, and Poeltl got the board and putback? Also: I just realized I’ve been spelling his last name wrong all along.
  3. Bebe watch: Injured. As Blake Murphy pointed out on Twitter, this was—unbelievably—the longest Lucas Nugueira had made it into a season without getting hurt. Three games! I was a bit surprised Poeltl didn’t get the start, to be honest. I generally like Casey’s “keep the bench unit together” approach, but thought that Poeltl earned those minutes following his play the last two games. But, can’t argue with the results; the start went to Paskal Siakam, who did not disappoint—a career high in points, dunking and hitting threes, running the floor like a champ, sticking to guys on some solid defensive possessions. And Poeltl was—again—a stud off the bench.
  4. As for the final minutes… You can pin the loss on the Raptors falling back in to old habits at the end of games—it was Lowry and DeRozan iso-ball on the final few possessions, abandoning the ball movement that had given them the lead just moments before. I didn’t mind the shots themselves—a couple 15-footers from DeMar and a floater from Kyle—but there was no movement to get those shots, the defense was completely set, rebounders were firmly entrenched. But old habits die hard, and the progress overall through four games is promising. The play in the final two minutes that just killed me was Kevin Durant’s three. Shame on Serge Ibaka for backpedaling way too far when everyone and their brother knew that, down three with the ball in his hands coming off a stop, Durant wanted to take the pull-up 3. Ibaka gave him the space. Durant took it. And nailed it. And that was it.
  5. The Warriors are the champs, and they’ve won a billion games the past three years. We should be used to their greatness by now… but man, they are something else. The length, the speed, and the shooting… that 9-0 run in the second quarter happened so fast, and they make it look so easy. And then the run to close the game… mistakes against this team, or any failure to capitalize on a stop or offensive rebound, will kill you. They are so deadly. They’re a joy to watch… against any team but your own, of course.

Let’s see how the Raps do Friday night against the new-look Lakers!