Steph Curry is a superstar: NBA champion, NBA MVP, NBA scoring champion... and a guy many players and experts have called the greatest in basketball history. (And he's also the guy Nike famously lost to Under Armour -- here's a full recap -- partly due to a sloppy PowerPoint presentation but also because they dramatically underestimated his value.)
Superstars can also be hard to manage, partly because they are superstars, but also because many leaders place all their focus on less skilled employees.
But not Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr.
Kerr doesn't just coach Curry. He doesn't just focus on strategies and tactics.
He also actively -- and consistently -- works to build a professional and personal relationship.
Here's a great example.
Surround yourself with people who believe in you the way Steve Kerr believes in Steph Currypic.twitter.com/yYOhhgRuto-- Jason McIntyre (@jasonrmcintyre) January 26, 2018
Let's start with the first segment. Kerr shows Curry two different stats: His shooting totals and his plus-minus (how many points better the Warriors are when Curry is in the game versus when he is not; in effect, his overall impact on the team's performance.)
Curry is disappointed in his shooting, so Kerr uses those stats to make an important point:
"That's your shooting totals... and that's your plus/minus. All right? So, it's not always tied together. You're doing great stuff out there. The tempo is do different when you're (in the game.) Everything you generate is so positive. It shows up here (pointing to plus/minus), not always there (pointing to Curry's scoring totals), but it always shows up here. You're doing great. Carry on, my son."
Kerr's focuses on the individuals employee's overall impact on the team, and on encouraging the behaviors that make the biggest difference for the team. Like the salesperson whose deal-closing rate falls slightly short of target but who is filling the pipeline with great long-term leads. Or the employee whose personal productivity falls slightly short of standards but who actively helps others, trains others, improves overall team morale -- and without whom the entire team's performance would suffer.
Focus on one metric and you may miss the bigger picture. Focus on praising -- or critiquing -- one metric and you may de-motive the employee in areas where his or her performance matters most.
The next segment shows Kerr talking to Curry after a spectacular run of shooting:
"I would love to feel whatever the hell you're feeling right now. Just once in my life. For me, if I went 5 for 6 and made 4 threes, that was the best I ever did. Love it."
As Daniel Coyle says (I initially found this video on Dan's blog), "At first glance, this is a bit over the top. Curry already knows he's good. Shouldn't Kerr be challenging him? Pushing him to new heights? The key is to realize that Kerr isn't coaching; he's building a bond.
"He also delivers one of the most powerful signals a leader can deliver, a burst of pure delight. (And it connects: check out at the expression on Curry's face at the 27-second mark.)"
Kerr is also consistently savvy about the timing of his praise. Kerr doesn't encourage with platitudes. He doesn't just say, "Great job." His praise is timely, specific, and unique to the moment.
As Kerr says later in the video:
"Love it. One of the things I love about you is you're two for 11, and you have no hesitation about shooting a sixty footer... nobody in the league does that... You have so much confidence in yourself, and within games like this, you turn it on like that. That's awesome. Amazing. I wish I had your confidence."
Early in the game Curry had not been shooting well, but instead of becoming more conservative, he was willing to take a high-risk shot. That shows confidence, and Kerr wants Curry to be confident. Confidence for athletes -- and for the rest of us -- is everything.
So Kerr praises the behavior. He encourages the behavior. And he makes it personal: "I wish I had your confidence."
That's what great leaders do. They show disappointment when necessary. They show delight when deserved. They show vulnerability; Kerr is happy to say, "You are better than I ever was."
That's how you should lead a superstar employee.
That's how you should lead every employee.