Leadership Lessons from the Golden State Warriors Locker Room

On June 8th, the Golden State Warriors basketball team won its second consecutive National Basketball Association championship. Observers agree that the Warriors are packed with talent, no doubt the principal reason for their success. But on the way to winning the title, the Warriors consistently demonstrated the ability to emerge from halftime in a close contest and then blow their opponents off the court in the third quarter. What magic formula enabled them to take over the game after a 15-minute break?

On May 31st,  The New York Times sports section ran an article describing what takes place in the Warriors locker room at halftime. Reporters Marc Stein and Scott Cacciola attribute the team’s success to “managerial strategies straight out of business school.” Here are four factors they identified.

#1 – Focus on facts

Sports, even at the professional level, draws heavily on emotion. But the Warriors focus their halftime attention chiefly on facts, reviewing video clips from the first half. The goal is to identify precisely what went well and what didn’t during the first two quarters of the game. Head coach Steve Kerr does not orchestrate in advance the video clips he shows. He trusts his staff so much that he does not need to know ahead of time which clips the assistant coaches will call out and the video coordinator will assemble.

#2 – Accentuating the positive

Kerr, who before becoming the Warriors head coach was a television analyst, has a well-developed ability to identify the details that matter. He is good at breaking down his observations and those of his staff into digestible pieces. The message: Focus on the few things that really make a difference and repeat what was successful. Kerr wants to emphasize the positive so that his players come out of the locker room understanding what they need to do to win and energized to do it.

#3 – Involving everyone

Coach Kerr leads the discussion of which tactics to change and which to carry over to the second half. This discussion unfolds as an open forum, however. Kerr carries the title of head coach, but he invites commentary from all of his assistant coaches and from every single player, an unusual degree of democracy in a locker room.

#4 – Displaying confidence

Kerr and his staff wrap up the analysis and discussion with six minutes to go in the 15 minutes halftime period. This allows the players time to take warm-up shots and go through their own physical and mental preparation. He trusts that they can internalize what they need to do in about seven minutes of intense analysis and conferring – a blessedly brief meeting. Kerr and his staff then return to the court with about two minutes remaining before the start of the second half. They have confidence in their halftime routine and in the ability of the players to heed the key messages and execute the game plan, extending their halftime lead or, if they have a deficit, erasing it with a soul-crushing barrage of points and a smothering defense.

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Sports analogies are overused in business, but this one really does apply. The Warriors have a leader who, in his halftime sessions, consistently:

  • Manifests trust in the organization’s other leaders and in the players
  • Displays humility by encouraging everyone to contribute to strategic decisions
  • Pinpoints what people do well and encourages them to build on this positive foundation
  • Conveys confidence that, armed with facts, competent professionals will muster the intellectual and emotional energy needed to perform their jobs successfully.

Little wonder Steve Kerr’s teams have won three National Basketball Association championships in the past four years. What business wouldn’t covet that record of success?

Creative Commons image courtesy Disney / ABC Television

Tom had more than 30 years of consulting experience with Willis Towers Watson, a global human resource consulting firm. Now an independent consultant and writer, he provides advice on human capital strategy, manager effectiveness and rewards research to clients in a range of industry sectors, including technology, financial services, health care, consumer products, retail, and energy.

Tom is the author of The Stress-Reduction Pyramid: A Guide to Managing the Greatest Threat to Employee Health and Productivity. He has also written two other books: Human Capital: What It Is and Why People Invest It and Manager Redefined: The Competitive Advantage in the Middle of Your Organization (co-authored with Stephen Harding). You can find other articles on his website, http://worklodes.com/

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