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Leadership Lessons from the Warriors

Mark Cook is the program coordinator for the Institute for Global Engagement, a partnership between Denison Forum and Dallas Baptist University. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Dallas Baptist University, and completed his Masters of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School and Truett Seminary. His ministry background is college ministry, and he has served both on a church staff as well as within campus ministries.

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Feb. 20, 2016 - Los Angeles, California, U.S. - Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry reacts after a three point basket agent the Los Angeles Clippers in the second half during an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. Golden State Warriors won 115-112. . (Photo by Keith Birmingham/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)

The Golden State Warriors have been the most compelling story in basketball all year. Coming off a dominating season last year that culminated in an NBA Championship, the team hasn’t skipped a beat since. They won their first twenty-four games, flirting with the all-time NBA record of thirty-three straight wins. Their MVP, and the league’s overall best player, Steph Curry, bested his own single-season three-point record in February, with over twenty games left to play. Ever since, their march towards the Chicago Bulls record of seventy-two wins has been the dominant storyline of the league. Let’s look at two factors of their success that relate to leadership.

Fundamentals

Steph Curry’s pre-game routine has become legendary. Fans of all ages come to the arena hours before the game starts just so they can watch Curry warm up for the game. Many of the arenas that host the Warriors for away games have to open their gates extra early, because fans are so eager to take in Curry’s routine. Why has it become so popular? People love to watch someone who is exceptional at their craft.

Curry’s routine is based on the fundamentals of basketball: dribbling and shooting. His ball-handling skills enable him to create space for shots because he can keep the ball so close to his body. The Warriors team as a whole has taken on the fundamentals mentality, relying less on physical size for dominance and more on mastery of the basics. Their shooting percentage for both two-point and three-point field goals is best in the league, showing that while Curry and co-superstar Klay Thompson receive most of the media attention, the rest of the team are capable shooters as well.

Leadership is similar to sports in that talent can get you a job, but it won’t keep you there. There are numerous players in the NBA who are physically gifted but who haven’t taken the time or put in the effort to hone their skills. Similarly, many executives get chosen because of their ability to charm or embody a sense of leadership, but they flounder when they get into the rhythm and routines of leadership. Talent alone is not enough. Leadership takes attention to detail and constantly going back to the fundamentals of good communication and strong critical thinking skills.

Teamwork

While the Warriors are the best shooting team in the league, they are also the leaders in assists. In fact, the Warriors average over six assists per game more than the average NBA team. Their offense is built around sharing the ball, quick passes, and keeping the defense from being able to get into a set position. While Curry and Thompson are the focal points of their attack, their entire roster has been pivotal at critical points throughout the season. The superstars have had their fair share of off nights, but their bench has stepped up to fill in the gaps.

Leaders often don’t spend enough time thinking about whom to surround themselves with on their leadership team. Jim Collins popularized the image of “getting the right people on the bus.” He argues that instead of getting too focused on what you are going to do as a new leader, you need to first think about who you have on your team: “They (leaders) start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.”

One thing that is easy to see when you watch the Warriors is how they genuinely enjoy playing with each other. Their coach has established a critical balance between fun and focus, and the rest of the team embodies the commitment to both enjoying the game and taking it seriously.

As Christian leaders, it is imperative that we build strong networks and teams around us. One of the great things about servant leadership is that it encourages you to focus on how to help others improve rather than simply focusing on yourself. So much contemporary leadership training is focused only on the individual, because many do not understand the idea of being poured into by Christ and then pouring out that love to others. Christian leaders focus on personal growth, but they always seek to apply that growth to helping those they are leading, creating an atmosphere of teamwork. The Warriors historic season is full of things to marvel about, but when we look deeper, it’s clear to see that their success sheds light on basic principles of leadership that stand the test of time.