Nobody saw it coming.
A rookie head coach. A team with plenty of young talent, but which wasn't truly battle-tested. An organization that hadn't won a championship in 40 years.
How did the Golden State Warriors make the jump from good team to NBA champion?
Here are five leadership lessons you can take and apply to your own business.
1. Listen to your employees. All of them.
Steve Kerr may be a rookie head coach, but he won five championships as a player and learned firsthand from coaching greats Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson, among others.
Still, Kerr knew the value of surrounding himself with great assistants. So he hired Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams, two of the top strategists in the game.
Kerr is also known to invite opinions from players and even interns. For example, after the first three games of the series, the Warriors trailed the Cavs 2 games to 1 and looked stymied. One of the lowest-ranking members of the coaching staff, "special assistant to the head coach" Nick U'ren, suggested inserting Andre Iguodala into the starting lineup for the first time this season.
Kerr liked the idea and implemented it. The result?
The Warriors won the next three games in a row.
Every company tries to hire well. Your challenge? Cultivate an environment in which you can take advantage of all those great people.
2. Make decisions that are best for the team. Not the individual.
Andre Iguodala is an 11-year veteran of the league. His impressive accomplishments include being named to the NBA All-Star team and twice to the NBA All-Defensive team, and earning two gold medals as a member of Team USA.
How do you think he felt when Kerr removed him from the starting lineup at the beginning of the season and asked him to come off the bench?
Iguodala wasn't the only player who had to swallow his pride. Former All-Star David Lee went from starter to being used in a limited capacity, and defensive stalwart Andrew Bogut all but disappeared from the rotation half-way through these finals.
All season long, Kerr has preached sacrifice for the betterment of the team. How did it turn out?
Lee returned to make a key contribution to the series. Bogut accepted the change and allowed the Warriors to gain a major advantage.
He became the NBA Finals' Most Valuable Player--the first ever to win the award without starting a single game in the regular season.
As a leader, you have to make decisions for the betterment of your company.
It's natural for people to resist change. But get them to buy in, and you'll take everyone to the next level.
3. Keep confident.
In game two, regular-season MVP Stephen Curry had one of the worst games of his career. He made just 5 of 23 shots from the field and 2 of 15 from three-point range. He missed more three-pointers in a single game than anyone ever had in NBA Finals history.
Much credit was given to Cavs role player Matthew Dellavedova and his defense. Headlines touted him as "the Curry-stopper" and "Curry's kryptonite."
Did Curry lose confidence? Did he allow the naysayers to get the best of him?
Hardly. He responded by scoring more than 20 points per game for the rest of the series, exploding for 37 in the pivotal game five.
No matter how primed you are for a specific event, it's natural to lose confidence at times. A poor night's sleep or a costly mistake can greatly affect mood and morale.
But everyone has a bad day. You're the same person you were before. Trust your process and the hard work you've put in to this point, and push forward.
4. Don't forget to have fun.
Kerr's philosophy, reiterated throughout the season, is "basketball should be fun."
This is seen nowhere clearer than at Warriors practices. Players have described the beginning of these sessions as "chaos," "balls flying everywhere," and "a complete circus."
But there's a method to the madness. Players get motivated as they warm up to blasting music. When Kerr competes with players in shooting contests, he gains their respect. And when staff members inject humor into film sessions, players and coaches bond.
Your employees probably spend more time with each other than with anyone else--even their families. It's impossible to remain engaged 100 percent of the time.
Offering your people opportunities to lighten up can help them to focus when it counts.
5. Set the bar high.
Before the season, no major newspaper or sports journal predicted the Warriors to finish as NBA champions and become the hottest team in basketball. Why would they? The Warriors lost in the first round of the playoffs last year and their leader had never coached an NBA game.
But Warriors owner Joe Lacob, general manager Bob Myers, and Coach Kerr had different ideas. They knew what type of talent the team had, and were confident in their plan to win. Why not now?
If you aim for B-level performance, that's the highest you'll ever achieve. Shoot for the stars, and you just might do something great.
Don't believe me?
Just ask the rookie coach and his group of upstarts.
Respect also to Lebron James and the Cavs, who fought hard, refused to give up, and showed some great leadership qualities as well. Hats off to both teams for great effort and a classic NBA Finals.