Mike: This is knowing Kenning. I’m Mike Merrill and I’m here today with Daryl Ogden.
Daryl: Hi, Mike. Good to see you.
Mike: And Darryl had a chance to sit down with his brother-in-law Ron Adams. Who’s an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors. How do you know Ron?
Daryl: Ron and I have a long history together. He happens to be my brother-in-law and I’ve known Ron for going on 40 plus years now, since I was a high school sophmore.
Mike: Ron has been coaching for quite a while.
Daryl: Ron has been coaching ever since he has been out of college from the moment that he left college, he became a basketball coach. It’s 54 years now.
Mike: Maybe you could tell us some of his career.
Daryl: Ron has had an extremely varied career as a coach at the American university and college level, he also has coached in Europe as a head coach. And for the last 30 plus years, has been an NBA assistant coach. He’s worked for several franchises across those 30 years, but perhaps most notably it’s been his latest job, since 2014 as a coach with the Golden State Warriors, that’s coincided with three NBA championships and five consecutive trips to the finals from 2014 to 2019.
Mike: Let’s hear some of what you had to talk about with Ron.
Daryl: Ron, welcome to “Knowing Kenning”, Great to have you.
Ron: Thank you. Good to be here.
Daryl: So Ron, as I was reflecting on this session today, I was thinking a lot about our personal history. We met when I was a high school sophomore. Almost from the time that we first met, you became an incredibly important person for me because you were somebody who was involved with athletics at a very high level, as a coach at Fresno State University. You had an outsized influence on my life as a kind of a mentor, a big brother character, and somebody that I knew that I was going to learn a lot from, and that turned out to be the case.
Ron: Good to hear.
Daryl: I think our first experience of doing something together, professionally, happened in 1983, when you were a principal consultant with the Belgian junior national program. You have a long history of coaching in Belgium, had spent a year of your career as a head coach there, for the Sunair club and got very involved with the development of the Belgian basketball program.
And so I joined you and my sister, Leah, for a trip to Europe in 1983 and had an opportunity to be what I would call a junior assistant. Spent a week learning in a sense, the very beginning, the craft of coaching basketball. I’m curious what you remember about that period of time and our relationship.
Ron: My recollection is that you were a very eager young coach who was quite good. We ran a pretty structured camp and you fit right in. And I think at that point your leadership skills were really evident. But more than that, I think in sizing you up as a young person, at that point, you had great enthusiasm and you had really good focus.
We had a lot of fun. The meetings of course were a lot of fun because we have a lot of different languages being exchanged. And me speaking only one. And you probably at that time, the same, so it made for a really interesting sociological experience, also.
Daryl: As I recall, we spent a lot of time coaching defense in that camp. One of the things that you are well-known for in coaching circles and in basketball circles, is as one of the great defensive coaches in the world, and we were coaching your defensive system.
I probably knew six or eight words in French that I picked up that week. And I would say things like “encore” and “arrêter”, just giving very basic instructions in French and doing my best to model your defensive system.
One of the things that you told me at the end of that week, which made a big impression on me as an 18 year old is that you said, Darryl, if you wanted to, you could learn how to be a basketball coach. And although I chose a very different way of coaching in my career, eventually as an executive coach, rather than a basketball coach, that compliment, coming from you, probably had an outsized influence on me and my belief in myself, my ability to become a coach.
For mentors like you, for people who are working with younger people, it’s important to remember what an outsized impact you can have on people with just a word or two of encouragement that you might not remember, but the person that received the encouragement remembers and goes on and perhaps changes a whole trajectory for them and their career and their life.
Ron: I think as, especially as you get older, one of the things in life that really makes it enjoyable is when you’re working with young people, trying to help someone see the best vision of themselves.
Because in many cases, we can’t see that vision clearly within our own heads. And so it’s just really important to encourage, and when you see someone who is doing something well, to point that out, to point out the possibilities, I’ve worked with some really talented people, not necessarily even basketball players, who I think are compared to me are immensely talented, but don’t understand their talent. And I think as a coach teacher, as you have been, that’s one of our missions.
I think the international experience that you went through is really telling, because it just broadens a person. I mean, I grew up so much, during that year of coaching and Belgium and there was really one funny story. I was 30 years old. I tried to figure out the Belgium league. I had gone over for, oh two weeks or so and watched basketball at the end of the season prior to me coaching in Belgium and tried to assess what it would take in terms of the import players, which ones would be best.
And when I started coaching there, I had a player by the name of Donald Rusieklun. Everyone, including the person who maintained the building that we played in, a very nice old building, it was formerly the Royal riding stable, told me that Donald Rusieklun can only play on the right side of the floor.
He can run down the floor on the right side and he can shoot the ball on the right side. And I said to myself, ah, that’s hogwash, Donald will be able to run either side of the floor and do what I would like him to do. I found out in short order that Donald Rusieklun could only run on the right side of the floor.And then these kinds of simple lessons, for a young kind of headstrong coach were really important. And I stayed with me over the course of time.
Daryl: You must’ve done something right with Donald Rusieklun because in your year in Belgium, you took a club Sunair that had, I think the previous year finished at the bottom of the table to the top of the table and won the Belgian cup.
I don’t know if you ever got Donald to shoot on the left side of the court, but you got somebody to shoot on the left side of the court I assume.
Ron: We did. Yes.
Mike: Darryl. I really liked this idea of mentoring is helping others see a better vision of themselves.
Daryl: So much of the time when we’re mentoring or coaching people, we’re trying to help people imagine and see themselves in the best possible light, be the best version of themselves. This is something that Ron is extraordinarily gifted at in terms of working with young, very talented basketball players. Helping them not only become the best basketball player they can be, but also the best leader and best person they can be.
Mike: And what can we learn from Ron about how to do that?
Daryl: One of the things that I think that stands out for Ron is the way that he models, what it means to be a humble person and a person who’s willing to learn and grow and develop. We see this so clearly in the story that he related in our conversation about Donald, who could only shoot on one side of the basketball court.
And Ron was certain as a young coach that he could get Donald to shoot on the other side of the court. And boy was he wrong. He had to accept that about what he could and couldn’t do to make Donald the best possible basketball player.
Mike: The interesting thing here is helping someone see the best version of themselves while still not treating them as a problem to be solved.
Daryl: I think that’s exactly right. What I would really be focusing on, what you were put on the earth to do, what is the best version of yourself. And so rather than say, hey, I’m going to try to solve all these problems I have in my life or in my career. It’s to really lean into what assets you have and making the most of those assets and taking, much more of a strengths based approach to performance and leadership.
Mike: Do you have an example of where you were mentoring or coaching someone where you were able to instill this sense of a better vision of the person’s self.
Daryl: I’ve often, just really had the pleasure of working with incredibly talented people and hardworking people who are often perfectionists and perfectionism gets in the way of so many people’s careers because they hold themselves to a standard that’s really, frankly not attainable as human beings.
And so to try to help people take the foot off the pedal, to judge themselves when they show up as less than perfect, striving instead of perfection but for excellence. This is something that is a recurring theme in the work that we do and using the opportunity when you fall short of whatever your perfectionist goal may be, to treat that as a, kind of a north star for what you’re trying to achieve, but not judging yourself overly negatively when you don’t achieve it, because it’s not always attainable.
Mike: And in this next section, we’ll hear you talking to Ron about people who are very skilled, the superstars.
Daryl: Donald, would not fall into the category of player that I think we’re interested in talking about at least to start our conversation today. And that category of player we’re calling broadly, superstars. You have had a chance to coach at the NBA level, some truly transcendent players. Maybe starting first of all, with David Robinson, with the San Antonio spurs and then proceeding Ray Allen with the Milwaukee bucks, Derek rose with the Chicago bulls, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden, a remarkable trio of young players with the Oklahoma city thunder.
And, probably, most famously for you at this point in your career. Steph Curry, who arguably has changed the sport of basketball as much as anybody in the world over the last decade with his, transcendent, remarkable, other worldly, skills as a shooter in a score.
There are other players. I know that you have loved working with and coaching over the last 30 years in the NBA, but those players, I think stand out, I think most of them, were NBA MVPs at one point or another. I’m sure when you reflect on your career, they stand out as well in some respects.
I think that we’d love to hear you talk about your approach to coaching these kinds of transcendent players, understanding that they’re different from one another, but what goes into coaching a superstar? How do you do that? How do you approach that?
Ron: All of these guys that you mentioned are pretty normal people, behind the scenes. That your public persona can change because of a lot of things, pressure and the criticism of being a significant player in a league that’s highly publicized and so on, but they’re all pretty basic guys. Now that doesn’t mean that they are not high, strong thoroughbreds from time to time.
And that doesn’t mean that your journey with them is seamless, because there’s a lot involved. And first off, if you’re a great player and let’s take Steph for example, when you’re a 25 to 30 point per game score every night and that’s not happening for you. Steph hit a bit of a slump this year.
That’s a lot of pressure. Everyone starts asking what’s wrong and so on and so forth. The first thing you have to understand is that these guys are under a lot of pressure, perhaps the average fan doesn’t see that obviously as we do behind the scenes, but social media and so on has ratcheted up the pressure on players.
And you have a lot of players in this league that have performance anxiety, and for the most part superstars don’t, these guys are different. They’re your flagship, they have to be involved in the workings of the team and perhaps in a bit greater sense than just playing the game.Wwe saw this a little bit with Aaron Rogers at, Green Bay in which he was not totally informed of some things going on in the program and, these players want to and think they should have a say in the program.
And, quite frankly, there are so few superstars out there. That’s the reality, that they should have some say in your program. As a coach and as a head coach, specifically, you have to work in concert with these guys and you have to understand what makes them go, how to motivate them, and really how to communicate, not only on the court, but off the court.
It’s a really big part of it. Just an example. We had a player on our team who I won’t mention his name because it’s not really relevant, but we were staying at a hotel that they didn’t like, and we no longer when we traveled to that city, stayed at that hotel. You may have a superstar player who says, I’d like to leave a day early on a trip and you’ll leave a day early on a trip, because at the core of all of this, there are few superstars, they make your program and you have to be sensitive to how they are thinking. And you also have to incorporate them into your team, obviously. It’s an ongoing and a little bit tricky process, but most of these guys are great guys and they get the big picture and fit in very well.
Mike: One of the things that Ron talks about is how superstars in the public they’re superstars, but otherwise they’re normal people. Do you think in the business world, we sometimes forget that our superstars are also normal people with insecurities and problems and what have you?
Daryl: I think that there’s no question about that. When I reflect on my own career as an executive coach, again, I work with very high-level people, extremely successful people. They walk through the world in some cases, rather lonely and isolated because they sit atop some organizational pyramid, and they’re not treated by their colleagues as just regular people. They’re treated as the boss or the CEO, the president of their organizations. And so there’s almost a force field that’s placed around them and they lose some of that comradery. And that intimacy that comes with just being a regular person.
And a key for me. Success. I think because as a coach is that, I just try to treat those people like I would treat anybody in our conversations in the sense of trying to have real-world conversations person to person and not, elevating them above who they are at bottom of who they are is just another human being, but with a lot of responsibility and a lot of, accountability attached to them.
And so I think that approach has allowed me to make connections with my clients that have been very special connections that in many cases have lasted for years.
Mike: Ron talks about some cases letting the superstars call some of the shots. He suggests that they pick some of the hotels, they have some input in various things and he makes a pretty good case for why you might want to do this. But, I wonder does that work in the business world where there is a real sense of the importance of equality?
Daryl: Certainly in North American and European contexts, there is this big focus in the business world on egalitarianism and fairness and equity and so on. And I think that’s appropriate.
At the same time I think that, in business contexts, there are people within organizations that carry a significantly larger burden than others do. And the weight of the organization very much falls on them. I’m thinking in particular about creative leaders or highly technical leaders that have skill sets that are just, quite frankly, they’re unique. If they’re not unicorns, they’re quasi-unicorns. Those people often do have privileges attached to their roles. Because, those privileges are almost an inversion of the burdens that they have and the responsibilities that they have.
When that turns into nepotism or favoritism, or it looks as though there’s a disproportionate privilege that’s being attached to somebody that can be cancer for an organization. No question about it. But when it’s appropriately manifested, along with responsibility and burden, I think that people understand that.
Mike: So now you’ve identified your superstars in this next section, you and Ron, talk a bit about how to start building rapport with the superstars. And Ron’s had great experience over many decades doing this.
Daryl: What is true of Ron, and you see this in all of his relationships, that have nothing to do with NBA superstars is that he just loves to find out what people’s stories are. And he is insistently curious about other people, and he has a wonderful, conversational style. A wonderful kind of connection with people. And for me ,as a young person that was exposed to Ron initially as a teenager, I saw him operating like this when he was in his early thirties. And, it became, something that I was really intrigued by and inspired by, that for me, has translated into the kinds of relationships that I have with my clients, in the sense that I try to really understand them as people, I try to understand what their family contexts are, what their history is, what their stories are about themselves and their organizations.
I feel strongly that if you understand people in that way, and those dimensions that you can be a more effective coach to them because you have points of connection with them in context with them that go above and beyond just the business context.
Daryl: Ron, I’m curious, what do you do when a superstar is struggling? How do you specifically connect with them, relate to them, help them through whatever they’re struggling with?
Ron: With all of these guys, the number one thing is you build a rapport. It was interesting, when James Harden came to Oklahoma city, James was a fabulous talent.
One of the strongest players I’ve ever seen at that age, I conducted an individual workout when he came in and he went against Mark Bryant, who’s a big bruiser of a power forward is now with Phoenix, marvelous man. We put him through a lot of different things and he just was so versatile in everything that he did, but he was very deliberate.
He had played that way at Arizona State and it was really refreshing to see, but it wasn’t quite what the pro game was going to ask of him. And so it was a kind of a constant effort to get him to play quote unquote, more like the NBA game.
And he did that, but I really enjoy James and he was a left-hander. We had a lot of fun. We had the special Olympics there one day. It was interesting because a lot of the kids are left-handed and it’s the luck of the draw turned out different differently from them. And James and I were at the same station and we saw this thing evolving, and we looked at ourselves and it was really quite a poignant moment.
We being healthy, in terms of our cultural mindset about people and these kids being different, but many of them were left-handed. And so these kinds of experiences over the course of time, allow you to build a rapport and to be something to the player other than a basketball coach, at the same time you are a coach and the buck stops with you.
But you build this rapport, And in the tough times when things might not be going as well for someone, it allows you to talk to them in a way that is hopefully helpful to them.
Daryl: I think that you have a reputation for being a truth-telling coach, but also a coach who builds these remarkable relationships with all of your players, superstars and otherwise. What is the relationship, I’m curious, between the truth telling style that you have and the relationship building that you do so successfully?
Ron: When you’re earning 50 million a year, that’s a pretty significant business. The other players are earning minimum, so you have these 15 different businesses. You’re trying to blend them into one conglomerate that is efficient and works. Everyone wants to get better. Everyone wants to be a higher wage earner. It’s a business, it’s a sport, but it’s a business oddly. And so if you know what you’re doing and feel like you’re actually helping them and contributing to their wellbeing and their growth, they’re going to listen.
And from that foundational point, you’re going to develop a really good rapport. If you understand people, and if you are willing as a coach to kind of venture out and say the kinds of things that help someone grow, not necessarily even in the XNL part of the game, the fundamental part of the game, it could be something extracurricular.
That’s kinda how it has worked for me. I think for you or for anyone else working in a quote unquote coaching capacity, if you have the client’s wellbeing as your foremost motivation, it’s going to work out for you. If you don’t, people see through you and it probably will not work out for you. And I think that’s the formula that I’ve used over the years.
Daryl: Is there something here where, and especially with these players of such stature, in a way the world revolves around them, because they have been so successful, they’re so talented that there’s something that’s powerful for them about having a truth teller in their life and that, that may be different from what they experience in their broader context.
Ron: I think there is a distinction there, I would say it this way, every player has a lot of people surrounding them, giving advice, whether it’s their financial people, their agent, their buddies, and so on. In many cases they’re not getting The full story. Let’s put it this way. Because when you’re working for someone, you tend to probably approach it a little bit different, in a different manner, than a coach would because a coach is working together with someone and at our level it’s not college athletics. You don’t have the coach on a mountain looking down at his players.
I think that’s changing in college too, but historically that’s been the model. In the NBA, it’s a bunch of guys working together and they respect coaching, but it’s a two-way street. And we learn a lot from our players, especially veteran players, who have played the game and who have competed against given players multiple times.
And if you’re not, tapping them for their thoughts and their expertise, you’re not coaching very well. But we have to be the truth tellers, in a culture in which many of these guys are having people tell them what they want to hear. And so I wouldn’t make that distinction. Now I’m generalizing a bit. I’m not saying that these individuals don’t have perhaps someone telling them the truth, as they see it or pointing out things that might be helpful for that player’s career. They’re all trying to do that, but I think a coach does it in a different way.
Mike: I really like the story of how he built a relationship with James Harden. It’s at the special Olympics. And I think a really interesting way to break this down a little bit is to use the trust equation. You’re ready to use the trust equation?
Daryl: Yeah, sure, absolutely.
Mike: So you know in the trust equation on the top line. The things that build trust are things like credibility. Are you believable in your role, reliability, do you show up every day and intimacy, you have a connection with a person in some way, and then what undercuts the trust is self-orientation, do you seem like you’re just doing it for your own purposes? Ron with a 50-year career comes in with a great deal of credibility. I’m sure he shows up every day. And so the two things he probably needs to work on when he’s working with a superstar, is that intimacy, that sort of connectivity.
And probably also self-orientation, he’s got to signal to that superstar. I’m not just in it for Ron. And also in some ways model for the superstar a way of being in it for the team.
Daryl: And I think that, again, the relationship building that we’re talking about directly correlates to the intimacy dimension of the trust equation and, Ron builds incredibly professionally appropriate, intimate relationships with his players.
And with all of his colleagues really. He knows something specific about every person that he works with and he knows where that person comes from, what they stand for, what their values are, what they like, what they dislike, et cetera. And these are the things that we all need to know about the people that we work most closely with in order to understand what makes them tick and what they care about.
Mike: One of the things that’s connectivity here is left-handedness. Interesting Point of connectivity isn’t it?
Daryl: It sure is. I think that Ron grew up in a time when being left-handed was really seen almost as a disability teachers would try to convert children to being right-handed. And So he very much identifies with lefties and with left-handed people generally speaking. I think that, when he and James harden recognized that they were both left-handed, it was this moment of probably, having been again guided and coached to do something different from who you authentically were. And that became a point of connectivity between them, that drew them closer together.
Mike: It can be a surprising thing that draws you to someone else. I think in business contexts, it could be a hobby, or it could be like a shared level particular kind of eighties music can be a connection point.
Daryl: Yes. Certainly since I had children, talking about children and about what the parenting experience is. I often find something that is really just endlessly fascinating to talk about with clients and that becomes actually an approach to thinking about how you grow and develop a team because of how you think about growing and developing your own children, or, how you work as.
The head of a team, if you think of a parent as at least a co-head of a household. And so there are these analogs that you can find. But again, if you can find these points of connectivity and similarity it just disarms the relationship in some ways and it warms it up and then it allows you to discover new things together.
Mike: And the other thing is self-orientation. Right, as we said, being perceived as being self-oriented that you’re doing it for your own purposes only can be very undercutting of trust. The example he gives here is one where you’re doing something for the special Olympics, They’re not doing something that’s a party for themselves. It’s something they’re doing clearly for other people.
Daryl: It’s a version, I think, of what we would call servant leadership, right? Which is, getting outside of your own, very privileged context. Anybody who works within an NBA context is by definition privileged. And so, getting outside of that bubble and serving others and doing something for people who do not have the immediate blessings that an NBA basketball player does, or an NBA coach does is very powerful. A kind of role modeling for doing something that’s on behalf of something bigger than yourself.
And I think the team orientation is always about, we’re doing something bigger than ourselves. And I think that this distinction, that Ron talks about, maybe one of the best examples: I think Steph Curry has the reputation of being perhaps the most selfless superstar and, most recently in the NBA playoffs, he elected when he was coming back from injury to come off the bench because, he was sending a signal to his team that even with all of his accolades, and all of his achievements, coming off the bench was the best thing for the team. And he modeled what that would look like lowering that self-orientation becoming oriented towards the team in the case of an NBA context and an organizational context, that’s a driver of trust. And I think it would be fair to say that every single Golden State Warrior would follow Steph Curry anywhere he was going to lead them because he’s that kind of a leader.
Mike: When I worked in New York, there are often these charity runs and charity climbing of steps in tall buildings. And I think most people experienced it, not just as great for the charity, but they felt united with the other people who were doing the events.
Daryl: To circle back on something we talked about before, I think leaders are able to inspire their teams and their organizations when they’re willing to sacrifice for the greater good, when they’re willing to do something above and beyond.
And that generates followership. And, a kind of a special connection with their organizations. So anytime I think you see somebody doing something for the greater good, certainly especially people in leadership roles. Those can just be incredibly powerful, multiplying gestures in terms of cultural impact.
Mike: The other piece you dig in here is a classic what we call a polarity, a classic system, where the things seem to be at odds, but actually you have to maximize both of them to get the best results. And this is, you asked Ron about being a truth teller and yet building deep relationships with players.
Daryl: That’s right. NBA players in particular, they hear a lot of things that are just frankly, puffery and praise and based on their fame, based on their wealth. These guys are very smart guys and I think that they can see right through that kind of relationship, that’s an empty relationship if that’s what characterizes the relationship. And it’s the exact opposite of what Ron stands for as a coach. He would say that he cares enough about his players to tell them the truth.
Telling the truth as a form of caring for him, but it’s also joined together with really understanding player’s experience, which in most cases is very different from Ron’s experience of growing up in central California on a farm, he has to find these points of conductivity and connection with young people who were often quite different from him in terms of background and experience. He does that brilliantly by I think asking great questions and listening really carefully and then relating his own experience to them.
And by now he also has so many experiences within a basketball context that becomes, I think, quite a good exchange of storytelling.
Mike: And I think that the lesson for us is it can be really hard to give anyone in your team feedback.
It can feel especially perilous to give feedback to a superstar, right? Give feedback to your best performers. You might think they need the least feedback and in some ways they do on some dimensions. But in fact, focusing on your superstars could be a really good strategic play because you can bring out the best in them.
Daryl: Bill Gates said something to the effect that one supremely gifted software engineer is worth a thousand mediocre ones. But I think that it’s not just the talent that the superstar was able to exhibit for themselves, but what they’re able to bring out in the group, to get the group, to follow them and get extraordinary performance from everybody at the highest level that everybody can operate at. They can’t operate all at the superstar level, but they can operate at their highest level. And if you can get a collective doing that, you pretty much have an unbeatable combination.
Mike: And how do we apply that to the business context?
Daryl: The most extraordinary leaders are able to inspire the people around them to find their highest level. And that creates an enormous multiplier effect for organizations. I’ve seen this over and over again, that the most inspiring leaders. Catalyze whole organizations and that they have an impact that’s far greater than just their individual contributions, their functional expertise, their disciplinary expertise. They infuse their spirit and their confidence and their belief and their pursuit of excellence across the whole organization. And that has a viral effect in the most positive way possible.
I’m curious about different leadership styles that you’ve seen. Exercised by these players, you know, all of these players, the players that we’ve named, former MVPs, the all-star members of the NBA, all 75 year team. They obviously stand out because they have skills that make them unique and that are just better than other people’s skills.
And they can translate that to performance. But it might be just as important, maybe even more important, the leadership that they bring to their teams. And I wonder if you can talk to the kinds of leadership styles that you’ve seen some of these players bring and how they’re different from one another, how they chose to differently lead their teams, because of their personalities, because of the culture of the team, whatever the case may be.
Ron: There are just many different leadership styles, let’s say Kevin Durant, for example. Kevin is a wonderful practice player. He’s meticulous in his individual work he loves to practice. He loves to play the game. This old adage that if the league ended tomorrow he would be in a gym the next day. And Kevin would be one of those people. He identifies as a basketball player. His source of strength is his basketball plain. Kevin will speak up, and say what’s on his mind.
But I think he’s much more of a subtle leader in terms of if you’d watch his example there’s no way if you would follow it that you wouldn’t become a pretty good player because of his work ethic and his attention to detail in his own game.
Steph has that same characteristic, but Steph’s leadership strength is his personality. It’s who he is as a human being. I guess that could be said of anyone as far as leadership traits go, but this is a little bit different with Steph because, he’s the flagship player he makes things go for us because Steve’s approach has been one of teaching mindfulness and a joy and a respect and a thankfulness for, having the genetics to be an NBA player and all that comes with it.
And how richly blessed anyone is that has the ability to play in the league. And Steph, personifies all of this as a person. Of course it spills over into his basketball. And I think one of the reasons he’s so popular is if you watch him play he has his ups and downs on the court. He can be a turnover oriented player at times, but his journey is reflected in the actions he shows on the court.
Great joy in some cases disgust with himself. It’s really interesting when you analyze him from that standpoint. And I think that’s a strength of his, and I think he leads through that as well as just being a wonderful basketball player. David Robinson led by example, he’s just a big, kind, person who wasn’t overly vocal, but his presence was always there.
Very bright guy, a guy who I think. basketball was just one of the many things that he did well in life when he was really blessed physically, but his way of leading was different. Not particularly vocal. And then we didn’t mention as a great player, this Draymond Green guy, and now Draymond is a firebrand.
He’s an old school coach. He’s an old school player who leads very vocally. I used to have these talks when I first came here with him, I would say Draymond you’re a great leader, but you lead with razor blades on your elbow. Because in many cases, when he finished, there were a lot of cuts. And he has improved so much over the course of time, year by year. And now he’s just a, he’s a marvelous leader. I think with all that has come his way, I think he feels more relaxed. I think he feels his legacy has assured, he was always been a guy who was kicked to the curb.
Shouldn’t have made it not big enough to fat as a player, blah, blah, blah. And that has fueled him. So he leads like an old time college coach. We were struggling a bit a while back. Steve was wrestling with what to say to the team, Steve, by the way, it’s just a marvelous message giver the best I’ve ever been around:
Concise language; doesn’t overspeak, but always poignant and to the point. So Steve gave a wonderful six or seven minute talk, which was quite critical of some of the things that we have been doing, but the way Steve presents everything, it is a kind of message that can be critical, but it’s always uplifting.
He’s got amazing, an amazing gift for this. And then Steph spoke for maybe eight minutes, seven minutes, with another wonderful talk along the same lines. And then Draymond came in as clean-up. Now the last two talks by Steph and by Draymond were not planned. Steve simply said after he talked, does anyone have anything else to say.
And Draymond gave this fantastic talk in which he addressed some individuals on the team, like an old-school coach would have done. And it was marvelous. And I said to myself afterwards, I don’t think I’ve ever heard three better talks, all of them different, but all of them highly effective.
Daryl: It sounds like what stands out for you there is that there was a high degree of authenticity and something that was just so genuine about each of those deliveries and, on the mark, with clear messages, but they connected back to the person who delivered them.
Ron: I think what you said really captures what was said, in each little talk. But that reminds me of one of the things of being a coach who understands superstars and that’s the whole aspect of empowerment.
One thing that Steve has done well is that over the course of time, we have really empowered our players. Now, anything is a little bit of a double-edged sword and empowerment can be. But for the most part, it’s an extremely necessary and positive aspect in one’s coaching toolkit. Many people have trouble doing this because what happens is you relinquish, for your traditional coach, some of your power to others. And then historically we’ve thought of the others as people who we have to guide.
But in the modern game with a precociousness of some of these athletes, and their experiential background, empowerment is a way, and I think perhaps the only way that your team can achieve greatness, because it just plays into this. We’re all in it together, the coaches guide the ship, but the ship is powered obviously by all of these athletes and how they think, and how you think is how you perform in many cases. And if you think you have a vested interest and your word means something in the enterprise, you’re going to play better than the person who does not have that feeling.
Mike: So in this section, we heard you and Ron talking about how the coach will sometimes deliver a speech. This coach, Steve, Carol, Steve Care.
Daryl: It’s Kerr
Mike: I can’t even say his name. I have this hangup because when I went to UCLA, he used to come and kill us all the time by hitting those three pointers. So I still don’t like Steve Kerr. No, actually I greatly appreciate Steve Kerr, but I still hold this animus. He was a great guard at the University of Arizona and used to come and take it out on us at UCLA. Okay, so Steve Kerr, he speaks, but he lets the superstar speak up as well. What can we learn from this?
Daryl: I think that what we’re talking about here is empowerment and inclusivity. What I think you see,and this is true for the clients that I’m always most excited about working with is that they’re always trying to grow and develop their team and helping their team, especially their direct reports, their top team find their leadership voice and the best leaders are always thinking about who am I putting in place to potentially replace me?
One of my favorite clients and most important clients is Matt Booty, who’s the head of Xbox game studios. He always says that the most important thing a leader can do is to think about his succession plan or her succession plan. And to think about your succession plan you need to make sure that you’re empowering a group of people that could possibly succeed you. And you’re trying to really make investments to get the very best out of them.
The most successful leaders actually try to get out of the way, in some ways of their top team to let them do what they do best. Just like a head coach, just like a Steve Kerr; Steve Kerr’s not playing the game, but he’s putting his players in a position where they can be successful. That’s his job.
He doesn’t shoot any baskets anymore. He doesn’t make any passes, but he prepares his team to be able to do that. And on the court, he has to rely on people like Draymond Green and Steph Curry and Andre Iguodala, these kinds of coaches on the court, who direct the players and become essentially an extension of him.
And that’s what you see happening in the business context all the time. Of top teams becoming extensions of the top leader in the organization and the more they can channel that and also find their own authentic leadership voice as well, the more successful the organization.
Mike: In that path, which you want to be careful about is trying to turn them all into mini-mes.
Daryl: That’s why helping people find their authentic leadership voice, I think authenticity is such an important concept. It’s often the case that we learn from others and we take, and we borrow and we steal from other people.
But at the end of the day, we have to stand alone in a sense in the world and be the person that we are and to discover and find the person that you are. And I think it’s the job of leadership to try to cultivate that sensibility in your colleagues and your teams and so on. So that yes, you’re unified and you’re working in one culture and you’re working towards the same goals, but you’re doing that. With a diverse set of voices and styles and so on that are bigger than the sum of the parts and that compliment one another.
Mike: The other thing that Ron talks a bit about is the importance of veterans, of experienced players, and by the way, cross sports people well into their thirties are sticking in there. They’re able to keep up due to nutrition and training and improvements in medicine. And the veteran players are crucial. I think probably in the world today in the world that the great resignation where you want to hold on to all your players, this becomes super important.
Daryl: You know, experience is the best teacher. Organizations that don’t have continuity and they don’t have people with institutional memory, don’t have people who can say. Hey in the past, this worked and that worked, and this didn’t and that didn’t, and, to be able to remind people about where the organization came from, it’s just so critical.
And those people become essentially, again using the NBA metaphor kind of player coaches, so I have been following obviously the warriors very closely in these playoffs and Andre Iguodal, who’s 2015 NBA finals MVP, one of the great players of his generation. He’s had as big an impact this year as a coach and a mentor on the bench because he hasn’t been physically able to play as, you know, maybe he would have if he was playing. One of the things that I’ve heard him say over and over again is that he’s found his voice and his way of having a positive impact on the team.
And so of course the Warriors would love to have him playing, but he has found another way to add value as a mentor, as a kind of a player coach and a I think that’s a wonderful, image and analog for other organizations to be thinking about just how valuable somebody who has that kind of experience and wisdom, what kind of value they bring to your organization.
Daryl: You talked about these different leadership styles, the instances that you provided David Robinson Renaissance man. who’s doing a lot of different things, you know, remarkable intellect, and somebody who’s very polished academically and could do a variety of things.
And it just happened to be that he was a seven foot, basketball player who grew something like eight or 10 inches when he was at the Naval academy and Basketball suddenly became a proposition that he could think about pursuing as a career. Steph, who’s animated famously by joy, the joy of the game, the meticulousness, Kevin Durant, the quiet leader by example, follow me. I’m going to show you the way. Draymond the firebrand.
In the case of Kevin and Draymond and Steph, those leadership styles were all living side-by-side for three years, so how do you as a coach, how to Steve Kerr, the head coach of the warriors, your longtime colleague and friend, how do you as coaches, orchestrate, help bring out, these different leadership styles to help the team. At the time that they need the kind of leadership that is called for, or is it more just creating a culture where those leadership voices can come out? What is it that you guys do to accentuate these different leadership styles and figure out how they blend together?
Ron: I think it’s more creating the culture and if your culture is one in which people are encouraged to express themselves to speak up, to be themselves and they can be themselves without any negative consequences. That’s really what takes place. And your culture is basically a family-oriented one if it’s going to work at the highest level, San Antonio had a marvelous culture forever, and David was a big part of that. I can remember on any of the players’ kids birthdays, everyone attended the party. It was great.
And Dave is a very strong Christian man. David would do Bible studies at his home, and most everyone would attend. And if someone else was having some other kind of event, everyone would attend and it wasn’t out of necessity. It was because we had a really great group of guys there.
We liked each other. we’re talking about leadership formats and I think that’s one of the ways David led. We have a similar thing with the Warriors. Now when we’re talking about this, remember in athletics in NBA basketball, you have a lot of ups and downs.
It’s not a perfect, fluid, enterprise, and you have egos budding from time to time and so on. Budding up against each other from time to time. But for the most part, our culture has allowed these various kinds of leaders to speak up, with impunity. And be who they are, and this is what you want on a team.
You want people expressing who they are, again, this leads to growth and I think at least the cohesiveness. I’m not saying it’s simple to arrive at. I’m not saying you don’t have ups and downs as I earlier indicated, but that would be one of the goals, I think, in any good culture.
Daryl: These days, for a variety of reasons, there is a big emphasis in business contexts right now, to be focused on diversity and inclusion, on making sure that diverse voices are heard and making sure that everybody’s involved. And so one of the things that I think is standing out for me, that you’re describing, of successful programs of superstar leaders, is that they actually encourage the voices of the team being heard.
And they also are inclusive leaders, meaning that they bring everybody into their orbit in a sense, and they create and contribute to this family environment that you’re describing that values everybody’s voice and includes everybody. I think that the feature that’s standing out for me is that maybe with less successful teams, those teams can be characterized by cliques or groups of people that stick together and maybe exclude other folks. What you’re describing in David Robinson and in Steph Curry, as an example, in Draymond Green are these incredibly inclusive leaders who lead by example, but also orchestrate this broader culture that brings everyone together. Is that the case or am I over interpreting that?
Ron: I think you’re painting a very pristine picture of it. I think that is the ideal. I think that’s what one strives for, but we’re talking about egos and, you have high moments and you have not so high moments, even within this leadership conundrum that we’re talking about having multiple leaders.
And I want to emphasize one thing: in San Antonio, we were a winning program and had a really good team and Golden State, when we came in, we had tremendous success right off the bat. Everyone gets behind the project because it’s workable and we’re winning and winning is the elixir that carries you. And it allows all of these other things to happen.
If a team is not winning with the pressures of pro sport, any pro sport, it compounds the task. It makes it a difficult task. Egos clash in a different way. When we talk about these kinds of things, I’m always cognizant of not painting this perfect picture because nothing in this life is perfect.
We’ve arrived at perfection at times, or close to it, a Golden State, but we’ve had our ups and downs too. And that’s in a program that had tremendous success for five years. That’s just the nature of sport. But I do think it has greater lessons. And, again, this empowerment thing, this whole thing about letting people who have leadership qualities speak their mind.
I have never seen anyone not get better when that’s the case over the course of time. I do think it’s the formula that one has to use at our level. And I think it would be a formula that would work in any business setting. But again, I don’t want to paint the ideal picture because life is not ideal.
Daryl: When you began at Golden State, in your first year and the first year in the new program under Steve Kerr, you guys won an NBA championship. And went to the NBA finals for the next four years and won two more NBA titles in that period of time. That wasn’t exactly a rebuild, but you have been identified throughout your career with rebuilds. And we’ve talked a little bit about your time with the Oklahoma City Thunder today, because that’s where you initially met Russell Westbrook and James Harden and Kevin Duran and coached them.
And you coach them through a very significant rebuild. The Oklahoma City Thunder, when you join them. Wereone of the honestly, one of the doormat franchises of the NBA. And in the time that you were there, there was a very significant turnaround. And I wonder if you could speak to that experience of rebuilding and rebuilding with young players who would become superstars, they weren’t superstars yet. They had a lot of promise and what went into that and what made that successful from a coaching perspective and a peer perspective.
Ron: When I went in there, I think the team had fired a coach and they had won three games prior to Christmas time, but we had talent. And so the latter half of that first season with the team. I came in after the season had started, we had pretty good success and some good things happened. And the next year we added another great player, but these young players that we had, you just sat there and said to yourself, these are fantastic players.
We had talent, young, yes, but we had talent. The next step was bringing this talent together, creating a format so that these guys could be successful together. And that’s really the hard part of it. And the guys were young. They pulled together for the most part, we made great strides and we did that, I think due to this youthful exuberance, but we did it because I looked at these guys and I said, these are fantastic players. I don’t care if they’re 19 years old, as a couple of them were 20 years old, these are fantastic players. And they were all for the most part shapeable at that point, they were open, they were excited.
And so putting it together was just a marvelous experience. Russell, who’s a good kid, not a kid anymore, but a young adult, but Russell was a little bit headstrong, but Russell’s energy also was important to that team. We also had Serge Ibaka, a very good player, who’s had a great NBA career, a great defensive player.
So we had a lot of things going on there that worked in our favor. but there was an enthusiasm and there was a momentum from the beginning that’s hard to describe. It was wonderful. It was one of the most wonderful experiences I think I’ve had in coaching. I look back at my time there and it was really one of the highlights of my career. In terms of helping people realize their potential, helping the team come together and become a really great team over the course of time in Oklahoma city.
Mike: Ron mentioned Steve Kerr’s incredible ability to communicate, that he is very concise and yet very meaningful. And he especially calls out the importance of framing the story for your audience.
Daryl: I think that storytelling and narrative and understanding where you are in your story and how a story is unfolding is such an underrated leadership skill.
And the people that possess it, people like Steve Kerr, they can turn defeat into a victory in terms of a lesson learned in terms of understanding the bigger picture in terms of saying, this is the trajectory that we’re on and maybe this loss or this setback is just part of our journey.
When they’re able to do that in a compelling way, it gives the people around them confidence, and it creates a sense of we are in this together, we’re in this story together. It essentially organizes the way that you go about approaching, adversity and approaching success as well. Steve is obviously a master at that and that’s why he continually finds himself back in the NBA finals.
Mike: What can we learn about framing a story properly from Steve Kerr?
Daryl: Well, I think it’s setting context and it’s having perspective. Steve has had an extremely rich career, but he’s also had a life that’s been characterized by terrible tragedy and adversity in the loss of his father when he was a young man.
That tragedy, I think, in a way shaped the rest of Steve Kerr’s adulthood, so he can put things in perspective. He can take things seriously. Also, I think he has a wonderful sense of humor. But, he has a sense of how to put things in proportion and to understand that yes, NBA basketball is important.
It’s his career, people care deeply about it, but at the end of the day, it’s a game. And, you know, keep things in the proper perspective because there’s a larger story to tell. So I think that he can see both the micro story of the basketball season and the sports context, but he can also see the macro story.
And so I think that people really appreciate the ability for him to situate his storytelling within his values and within his authenticity to go back to that word. And that when he’s telling a story, he believes it, and, he’s committed to it and, he takes it seriously, but he doesn’t take it too seriously, especially in a basketball context.
Mike: I think taking things seriously, but not too seriously, especially not taking yourself too seriously is really crucial in a business context, too. Also not getting so stuck in the details of the day or the individual tactic you’re undertaking to forget the why, forget what you’re trying to achieve.
Daryl: I think that the NBA season is a metaphor for what organizations go through. It’s an 82 game season. If you play in the playoffs, you’re going to play north of a hundred games. You can’t dwell on any individual loss or, a bad day, a bad week, a bad month, even. You have to see it in this kind of broader context to say, hey, where are we going? What is our vision for our team, the season, how are we going to go compete and get better? And, you’re seeking after continuous improvement rather than perfection and you’re seeking after excellence rather than perfection.
Having that context and that sense of proportion, I think should be true for all organizations because, the cycle of the fiscal year and the cycle of competition, it never stops. And so you have to be ready to run a long race.
Mike: So another thing is this notion of an inclusive leadership style. Right? The importance of building an organization where everyone feels included.
Daryl: One of the terrible scourges of organizations, of teams as anything that feels like in and out groups or anything that feels like there are cliques that are emerging.
And I think that what you see the most successful teams, the most successful organizations, they have a wide embrace. Everybody on that team and that organization feels like they are part of it, that they have an important contribution to make, that they will be listened to, that they will be cared for.
And that when push comes to shove, there will be togetherness. If you look at unsuccessful teams and organizations, inevitably there’s blaming, there are cliques, there are in and out groups and there’s fragmentation. It’s a truism of what organization and team success is all about.
And so speaking in an NBA context, but it’s also true in business contexts, leaders almost inevitably are maybe the most talented people. But they’re also the hardest working and they’re also the most inclusive and embracing of others.
And when you have those people in your organization, they are worth their weight in gold and platinum and silver altogether, because they catalyze the whole organization and they make it bigger than the sum of its parts.
Mike: Invariably, when you’re a leader, at some point in your career, you’re going to be brought in to help rebuild a struggling organization. And Ron talks a bit about the importance that raw junior talent can play in that effort.
Daryl: It’s interesting. If you look at the Warriors of today, again, just, in our NBA example, this year’s team is a combination of veteran players who have been through everything that you could possibly go through, the highs and the lows. But they’re also infused with these younger players that have joined the team in the last, three years or less. And that combination has led to the resurrection of the Warriors, from having the worst record in the NBA two years ago, after their five-year run of final success. And now they’re back in the NBA finals.
And so I think that the infusion of youthful energy and dynamism and wonder that comes with that is true for them. And I think it’s true for all organizations. Certainly the clients that I work with, the leaders that I work with, they understand that they have to have an infusion of youth and dynamism and optimism, hopefulness, and also, people that have never failed, never known failure yet, or profound failure, and they believe anything is possible.
And that’s usually more true of younger people than it is of older people, because older people have usually had setbacks. The combination of the experience and wisdom that older people bring with the youth and dynamism and belief that younger people have. That’s really a powerful combination.
So in the Oklahoma city experience, that’s where you first started working with Kevin Durant fast forward several years. And you revisit Kevin Durant. So you saw Kevin Durant at the very beginning of his career. And then when he joined the Golden State Warriors, I think it’s fair to say that he was at the peak of his career.
And he’s probably still at that peak because he’s such a remarkable player. How is it different working with a young transcendent 19, 20-year old and a man, probably at that time in his late twenties who was largely a finished product? How do you differently work with, same player, different era? What do those conversations sound like? How are they different between coach and player?
Ron: There’s some similar discussions, but things change rapidly in this league. And Kevin, was a superstar for, a long time. Anyone in a position of notoriety, gets a lot of criticism, gets a lot of praise, things happen. All of these life events that come your way, shape you and can take you in different directions.
At the core, Kevin was no different than the young Kevin I knew. He was no different in coming to Golden State than the Kevin I knew in Oklahoma city, but he had more baggage because this is what happens in this league. I would imagine it happens to the entertainers, we’re entertainers, in sport, but the entertainers in Hollywood and other people who have had great success and over the course of time, they run smack dab into life and all of the kinds of things that can change you on the exterior.
But what I’ve always looked at is, what is that person like on the interior? Who is that person? Not a public persona. To be honest with you, I think a lot of these guys are who they were when I first encountered them as young players. But the baggage, sometimes they’re forced to carry, changes them.
Daryl: Is there anything that you can do or say to help make the baggage lighter for them?
Ron: That’s what you try to do. Certainly that’s our job, to free them and make their journey a more fluid one for lack of a better word, a more joyful one.
Everyone started playing the sport because it was fun. You started playing football because you love football. It’s the joy of it. And that doesn’t change. That doesn’t change. And that’s one of the things I think that Steve Kerr, head coach, as a former player, has never forgotten that the game has to be fun.
Whether you’re a 32 year old veteran in the NBA, or whether you’re a rookie, the game has gotta be enjoyable because that’s why you got into the sport. It made you feel good. It gave you self-worth. It provided confidence to you. So many things that come along in a young athlete, and I can remember this distinctly from high school in my own journey and my own development.
This is what you try to help players understand, that it’s a game, it’s fun and above all else, let’s do it together because we can’t get anywhere as individuals in this sport.
Daryl: There’s so much there that relates to. The world that I operate in working with organizations, large organizations in many cases, much larger than an NBA franchises, but the leaders who are able to gather their teams and their organizations together on behalf of a goal, that’s bigger than themselves, that they’re identifying that’s beyond an individual goal, but it’s something that, the whole organization or team is aspiring to do. And getting everybody lined up behind. That’s the art of leadership and the people that can do that, they tend to win. And the ones that can’t, you don’t hear a lot about them only, perhaps when you read that things have gone haywire.
Mike: Ron brings up this notion that veteran players, veteran employees, if you will, bring with them some baggage. And I wonder if, do you think that’s the case?
Daryl: I do. I think it’s the case. Absolutely. I think the question is, are you going to carry that baggage or are you going to let it go, or at least remove parts of it so that it doesn’t burden you, that you’re informed by it, you learn from it. But it doesn’t, you know, make you hunch over,because of the burden that it represents for you.
What’s critical is what you do with that baggage. And in what context you see it in, Is it forever? And if it’s forever, boy, that’s trouble. If it’s something that is a teaching point for you, a learning point for you, then it can become an asset. So how do you turn discouragement into an asset? And that is a trick that every accomplished sports coach figures out, because inevitably if you compete long enough, you’re going to be beaten. You’re going to have disappointments. How do you turn that around and say, look at what we’ve learned, look at what we’ve endured together. Now we’re ready to win again. And I think that, that’s true for individuals and that’s true for teams and organizations.
Inevitably we, unfortunately we learn more typically from our setbacks and our disappointments, our defeats than we do from our victories. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t pursue victories. Of course we should. but the learning and the growth and the development more frequently in my experience, and I think in most people’s experience comes from what you didn’t get right.
Mike: And finally, Ron emphasizes the importance of joy. And this can be something we forget in the everyday workplace, we’re in the grind, we’re pursuing goals, even when we’re trying to help other people we can forget the importance of joy.
Daryl: Yeah. You always want to remind people of why they got into a particular field or discipline or career path. Hopefully at some point it was fun and it energized them and it gave them that sense of joy. I do a lot of career coaching. For my leaders who might be thinking about what’s next for them. And one of the critical questions that I ask is what’s giving you energy. When you look back on your career, where were the moments of joy and how do we recreate that in the new context that you find yourself in?
And if you underrate that and you are just pursuing a paycheck or you’re just pursuing, ambition and power and authority, those things aren’t bad in and of themselves, but if they become a kind of a fetish or an idol, and you forget about what brought you into this career in the first place, which was hopefully excitement, enthusiasm, joy, which someone like Steph Curry represents. He has fun on the basketball court, the people who do that, and they’re talented. Those are the people that are typically going to win. It’s a great reminder for people, that the more joyful that they can be in their work on a daily basis, that joy is infectious and. It will spread to the team, and a virtuous cycle follows.
Mike: That’s something we can all aspire to.
Daryl: Absolutely. We should all be as talented and joyful as Steph Curry.
Mike: Well, at least we could be as joyful if we try. Talented?
Daryl: That’s hard.
Mike: Daryl, what do you take away from this discussion of superstars?
Daryl: I think that number one is that, as important as they are, they’re real people and they are looking for real connections and again, as a coach, whether you’re a sports coach or an executive coach or any kind of coach, the people that you work with, no matter how important they are, how prestigious they are, they’re looking for connection with somebody who understands them, who gets them, but also can help them think about new ways of making sense, new ways of catalyzing themselves and getting the most out of themselves and their teams.
And that really, to me, is the core lesson that I’ve learned from Ron over the years is that he treats the greatest basketball players in the world among the most famous athletes in the world, he treats them, just as human beings with all that respect and care. and they returned the favor to him. And as a result of that, they develop these remarkable relationships that pay off in performance.
Daryl: Ron, just want to thank you for this conversation, focused on coaching superstars you’ve been blessed in your career to be able to coach many of them and just really appreciate your insights today.
Ron: Thanks. It’s been Fun talking with you.