I remember watching NBA MVP Stephen Curry play basketball back when he was an undergrad–storming through the NCAA Championship in a historic run to the Elite 8. At the time, I was a senior at Bowdoin and Stephen was a sophomore phenomenon at Davidson. I was struck then, and continue to be impressed now, by the poise, athleticism and most of all, leadership, Stephen shows on and off the court.
Stephen is now part of the leadership team at the company I founded, CoachUp. When I met Stephen through a mutual friend, it was quickly apparent that we shared a fundamental belief in the transformative power that great coaches can have on players. We share the common mission to make those opportunities available to athletes of all levels.
From working with Stephen and watching him play, there are four actions that stand out and really define his approach to leadership. Any entrepreneur would benefit from mimicking them.
1. Practice humility.
Stephen’s skills may be showy, but his demeanor and approach to his work are most certainly not. Stephen approaches his game and life with a humility that is striking.
In his MVP acceptance speech, he recognized everyone from the Warriors’ equipment manager, security and every player on the team who helped him shine. Perhaps this humility comes from his upbringing. In the same speech he told this tale, “I remember sitting out my first middle school game because I didn’t handle my stuff at home. That’s a pretty embarrassing moment, going to your first middle school game and telling your teammates, ‘I can’t play because I didn’t do the dishes.’”
Stephen’s humble approach to his work is what makes him such an outstanding leader on and off the court. He’s thoughtful and considerate of the people and effort it has taken him to achieve his goals, and he never for a second takes that for granted. People cannot help but respect such an approach, and that respect is what enables Stephen to lead with confidence and purpose.
2. Remember that the work never ends.
Stephen’s early scouting report includes the following (among other criticisms), “… Stephen’s explosiveness and athleticism are below standard. He’s not a great finisher around the basket. He needs to considerably improve as a ball handler...” While many a player would be paralyzed by this kind of negativity, Stephen used these critiques to fuel his passion.
Indeed, at every turn in his early career, from high school where he was deemed too small, to the major DI schools passing him by, to his scouting reports, Curry has faced doubt and rejection. And at every turn, Stephen focused on the only thing he could: himself. Working tirelessly to improve his game and develop the skills, strength and indomitable mentality he needed to excel. Even as he has risen to the top of the league, Stephen’s work ethic is unflagging–he’s known for his midnight sessions in the gym and once nailed 77 three-pointers in row. A great leader understands that, regardless of past success, the job is never done.
3. Recognize the power of others.
In his MVP speech, Stephen called out power forward Draymond Green, "You're the real voice of this team” and praised small forward Harrison Barnes as, “Wise beyond your years and a huge catalyst to our success." Great leaders are acutely aware of the skills and strengths of those around them, and look for ways to help others succeed. On and off the court, Stephen demonstrates that leadership isn’t just about what you can accomplish, but what you can help others achieve as well.
4. Seek out mentors.
Stephen understands that success doesn’t happen in a vacuum and has sought out mentors throughout his career to help him improve his game, fitness and mentality. He’s worked with private coaches since he was a teenager, training one-on-one with them to drill in and refine everything from his ball handling to his footwork. In his own words, “You find that guy that you can rely on to keep things fresh to keep the creativity flowing throughout the year and help make you better.” Leaders cultivate mentors throughout their career, understanding that outside perspectives are vital to grow and improve.
As an entrepreneur, I am constantly learning from those around me. Whether it’s watching Stephen dazzle a defense or rally his teammates, his unique approach to leadership inspires me daily.
Who inspires you?