Any business can learn from the ‘Golden State Warriors’ model

This column is going to discuss at length the Golden State Warriors — recent NBA champs -– so it’s quite possible that I will lose half my readers at the end of this paragraph who are tired of hearing about the world champions. But if you stick around, I hope you’ll find that this column is really more about how companies can emulate some of the core principles that have been demonstrated by the aforementioned Warriors over the course of their dynastic eight-year run. For as a fan of the team going back decades, I can tell you that this once-laughingstock of a sports franchise has done five things that any business can adopt to help drive sustained success. Principle 1. While not everyone can be a great leader, a great leader can come from anyone. When tech billionaires Joe Lacob and Peter Gruber bought the team, they began the transition from NBA doormat to championship team by making three key hires that were quite unconventional at the time. They hired two coaches, first Mark Jackson, and then, his successor, Steve Kerr, and a general manager in Bob Myers. Neither Jackson nor Kerr had ever been a coach of any kind when they were hired, and Myers had never been a GM. But over the course of a few years, it became clear that Jackson and Kerr knew how to maximize player potential and Myers, who was a longtime agent, knew how to build a winning team. It took a great risk to hire relative unknowns for such high-profile positions, but the Warriors owners saw that the raw skills each man possessed were more important than their specific experience. Principle 2: Build and utilize a deep bench. Steve Kerr played with two of the greatest players in NBA history — Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan — but Kerr himself was more of a specialist and role player. From that perch he learned that non-stars could have a major impact on winning. As a business leader, continually nurturing your employees and building their strengths is critical for both their future and yours. Of course, the Warriors won their championships because of the star power and ability of Hall of Fame-bound Steph Curry, but the contributions from bench players were just as much a part of the recipe. A business can succeed or fail based on the output and abilities of its lowest ranking employees. Principle 3: Preach readiness, provide opportunity. Speaking of opportunity, Kerr is legendary for continually tweaking his gameday lineup. In the Warriors first championship, he famously benched his 7-foot center in favor of a player 6 inches shorter. The result was a championship and that much shorter player, Andre Iguadola, went on to win the Finals MVP. Kerr has always preached the gospel of “be ready” to his players, meaning that everyone on the team should constantly be prepared to take on a larger role at any moment. In a company, a wise leader must constantly look for ways to offer leadership opportunities to employees. Not only does such a practice help train staffers to take on more responsibilities, but it also creates an incentive for them to continuously hone their skills. Just as the Warriors’ bench players constantly refine their game in an effort to be ready for a larger opportunity, your team will stay in a constant state of readiness for when you call them off the bench. Principle 4: Create workplace joy. Many, many profiles of the Warriors point out how much the players and coaches genuinely like each other and that almost everything they do from practice to travel to games is infused with genuine happiness and joy. I remember a lengthy article written by a newspaper reporter whose daily beat was one of the Warriors’ championship opponents and her comments were quite enlightening. The reporter wrote a glowing story about how much fun the team had during practices and that by comparison, the team she normally covered seemed dour by comparison. Your employees spend a great deal of their lives at your company. If it’s drudgery, they will almost certainly act accordingly and may struggle to find their motivation. By finding ways to both build a cohesive team AND building in fun and excitement, you help create an environment where your people look forward to work and the opportunities afforded them. Principle 5: Don’t be afraid to lose top talent. Yes, the Warriors win championships, pay players and coaches extremely well, and are constantly in the national spotlight, but that doesn’t stop the organization from seeing some of their top staff leave from time to time. Steve Kerr has said goodbye to several top assistant coaches who’ve gone on to head coaching jobs on other teams. For business leaders, this advice may seem counterintuitive, but losing a good employee can actually be a good situation for your organization. The Warriors are a hyper-successful organization and other teams are constantly looking to upgrade their organization by hiring Kerr’s assistant coaches. But that also means that super-talented assistant coaches for other teams are constantly competing to join his staff. If you are the chief executive of a company and your chief operating officer leaves to become CEO elsewhere, other businesses inside and outside of your industry are going to take notice. Don’t be upset by losing top talent, be buoyed by the fact that you are creating a place that continues to produce top leaders. It’s a sure sign that you are doing things right. If you seek out good leaders regardless of experience, build a great bench, create opportunities, develop a joyful environment, and nurture growth beyond your business, great things can happen. As the Golden State Warriors’ dynasty continues, its lessons for successful business leaders only continue to shine as well.



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