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5 Leadership Lessons From The 2015 NBA Finals

5 Leadership Lessons From The 2015 NBA Finals

I am neither a fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers nor the Golden State Warriors (my team wasn’t even close to making the playoffs), but I am a huge fan of the NBA in general. Thus, I watched the recent NBA Finals series rather closely.

Truth be told, what surprised me most about this Finals match-up was the two teams involved: the Cavs and the Warriors. Just a year ago, the former had been out of the playoffs, and the latter had been bounced out in the first round. What was it that allowed them to go the distance this year? The answer is simple: good leadership. Without it, both of these teams would never have made it as far as they did.

You too can take advantage of these leadership lessons. What are they? Read on to learn more.

1. Hire the best people you can find.

Just a few years back, the Golden State Warriors were a mess. They ran a haphazard lineup led by second-tier players like Monta Ellis, hired mediocre coaches like Keith Smart, and lacked direction in their front office. That all changed when two new owners bought the team. What they did was simple, but ingenious. They first rebuilt the team’s culture, basing it around hard work, success, and results.Then they went about re-structuring the front office, hiring Jerry West as general manager.

As one of the premier GMs in the league, and a former superstar in the NBA, Jerry West (otherwise known as “The Logo”) went about making much-needed adjustments to the roster.

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The final masterstroke came when the Warriors fired head coach Mark Jackson last year, replacing him with Steve Kerr. Though a decent coach, Jackson didn’t fit the front office’s vision. Meanwhile, Kerr seemed to be much more of a creative tactician who knew how to maximize the talent on the roster. Obviously, their gamble proved to be successful.

The moral of the story is that to be successful, you need to be surrounded by talented and driven individuals. You can’t be happy with the status quo if it isn’t getting the results you desire. When you couple this with a tireless and devoted staff, you will find your way to prosperity sooner rather than later.

2. Know when to make adjustments.

Though Steve Kerr proved to be a brilliant coach (leading the Warriors to a league best 67-15 record in the regular season), his rotations during the first three games of the finals proved to be inadequate at best. What had worked throughout the year was now being battered and broken by an injured, yet-hungry Cavs team led by LeBron James.

Through the first three games, the Warriors found themselves down 2-1, with game four happening in Cleveland. Things looked dire, so Kerr made a drastic lineup change.

He benched his starting center, Andrew Bogut, replacing him with Andre Iguodala, a former all-star who had agreed to take on a more limited role in order to win. The results were stunning. With his new, smaller lineup, Kerr and the Warriors blew the Cavs away, winning three games in a row and delivering the Bay Area its first title in forty years.

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Had Kerr been stubborn and not listened to one of his assistants (Nick U’ren, who suggested that Iguodala start), it’s likely the Cavs would have run away with the series.

While it can be good to stay the course, there are times when you need to change things up and adapt, even if it seems risky initially.

3. Lead by example.

When Kyrie Irving went down in the first game of the NBA Finals, fans and critics across the league wrote the Cavaliers off. They assumed the Warriors would sweep the depleted Cavs, to such an extent that every game would be a blow out. On shows like First Take and Sportscenter, pundits like Stephen A. Smith and Chris Broussard spoke about the Cavs as if they were already dead in the water.

They forgot; however, about one man: LeBron James. LeBron took it upon himself to make sure the Warriors didn’t have an easy go of things. He did everything for the shorthanded Cavaliers, scoring nearly half of their points, and averaging close to a triple double (that is, nearly ten rebounds and ten assists a game to go along with his point total).

LeBron’s resilience seemed to rub off on his fellow players. Guys like Matthew Dellavadova and Tristan Thompson, who were seen as inconsequential previously, elevated their play to the extant that Delly was dubbed “the Curry stopper,” and Thompson was described as being better than fellow teammate and perennial all-star Kevin Love (who had been injured earlier in the playoffs).

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When you leave it all out on the table, others will take notice, going above and beyond to match the effort you are giving. Without LeBron setting the example that he did, it’s likely the Warriors would have swept his team.

4. Don’t hold grudges.

It would have been easy for Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert to hang up the phone when LeBron James called in the summer of 2014, asking if he could join his hometown team once again. It would have been poetic if Gilbert rejected him, given how LeBron denied Gilbert back in 2010 when he chose to sign with the Miami Heat instead of resigning with the Cavaliers.

Gilbert, despite all of his faults, chose to do what was best for his business: he accepted LeBron James with open arms. Despite the fact that LeBron is the best player in the game, this must have been incredibly hard to do. After all, back in 2010, Gilbert had described LeBron’s departure as a “betrayal,” vowing that the Cavaliers could and would win a championship without James’ help.

Despite all of those theatrics, Gilbert took the high road, putting his team before any personal grudge that he might hold.

In life, that’s an important lesson to learn. There’s no point in burning bridges with folks if you can still assist each other in the future. Thanks to Gilbert’s decision, the Cavaliers are set to be Finals contenders for the next several years.

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5. Stay true to yourself.

When things began to look bleak for the Golden State Warriors, folks like Knicks general manager Phil Jackson (multi-ring winning coach of the Chicago Bulls, with Kerr on the roster) made some fairly critical comments, citing the Warriors’ reliance on the three point shot and fast paced play as the reason for their woes versus the Cavs. What had worked for the Warriors throughout the regular season and playoffs was now; according to some, causing them to lose against LeBron and the no-nonsense Cavs.

At this point, down 2-1, Steve Kerr and the Warriors could have folded and completely changed their style. They could have played a bigger lineup and battled it out with the bigger, tougher, and downright meaner Cavs. They could have listened to Phil Jackson, and began throwing the ball inside rather than hoisting three point shots.

Instead, Kerr doubled down. He allowed MVP Stephen Curry to play the same game he had played all year. Kerr even took it a step further, going with an even smaller starting lineup than before. The gambit worked. As mentioned earlier, inserting Andre Iguodala into the lineup did wonders, quickening the Warrior’s pace and slowing down LeBron considerably on the offensive end.

Because Kerr had faith in his system, guys like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson eventually found their shooting stroke. This culminated in a 37 point barrage by Curry in a crucial Game 5 victory that practically sealed the series for the Golden State Warriors.

Often, we waver when met with failure, switching up everything we know for little reason other than that we’ve lost confidence in our abilities. Meanwhile, in reality, it’s often better the stay the course, making smaller adjustments to whatever strategy has worked in the past. Chances are, things will turn around for you eventually, much like they did for the Golden State Warriors.

Featured photo credit: IMG_0585/Amir Aziz via flic.kr

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Last Updated on March 14, 2019

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

Recruiters might hold thousands of interviews in their careers and a lot of them are reporting the same thing—that most candidates play it safe with the questions they ask, or have no questions to ask in a job interview at all.

For job applicants, this approach is crazy! This is a job that you’re going to dedicate a lot of hours to and that might have a huge impact on your future career. Don’t throw away the chance to figure out if the position is perfect for you.

Here are 7 killer questions to ask in a job interview that will both impress your counterpart and give you some really useful insights into whether this job will be a dream … or a nightmare.

1. What are some challenges I might come up against this role?

A lesser candidate might ask, “what does a typical day look like in this role?” While this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask in an interview, focusing on potential challenges takes you much further because it indicates that you already are visualizing yourself in the role.

It’s impressive because it shows that you are not afraid of challenges, and you are prepared to strategize a game plan upfront to make sure you succeed if you get the job.

It can also open up a conversation about how you’ve solved problems in the past which can be a reassuring exercise for both you and the hiring manager.

How it helps you:

If you ask the interviewer to describe a typical day, you may get a vibrant picture of all the lovely things you’ll get to do in this job and all the lovely people you’ll get to do them with.

Asking about potential roadblocks means you hear the other side of the story—dysfunctional teams, internal politics, difficult clients, bootstrap budgets and so on. This can help you decide if you’re up for the challenge or whether, for the sake of your sanity, you should respectfully decline the job offer.

2. What are the qualities of really successful people in this role?

Employers don’t want to hire someone who goes through the motions; they want to hire someone who will excel.

Asking this question shows that you care about success, too. How could they not hire you with a dragon-slayer attitude like that?

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How it helps you:

Interviewers hire people who are great people to work with, but the definition of “great people” differs from person to person.

Does this company hire and promote people with a specific attitude, approach, worth ethic or communication style? Are the most successful people in this role strong extroverts who love to talk and socialize when you are studious and reserved? Does the company reward those who work insane hours when you’re happiest in a more relaxed environment?

If so, then this may not be the right match for you.

Whatever the answer is, you can decide whether you have what it takes for the manager to be happy with your performance in this role. And if the interviewer has no idea what success looks like for this position, this is a sign to proceed with extreme caution.

3. From the research I did on your company, I noticed the culture really supports XYZ. Can you tell me more about that element of the culture and how it impacts this job role?

Of course, you could just ask “what is the culture like here? ” but then you would miss a great opportunity to show that you’ve done your research!

Interviewers give BIG bonus point to those who read up and pay attention, and you’ve just pointed out that (a) you’re diligent in your research (b) you care about the company culture and (c) you’re committed to finding a great cultural fit.

How it helps you:

This question is so useful because it lets you pick an element of the culture that you really care about and that will have the most impact on whether you are happy with the organization.

For example, if training and development is important to you, then you need to know what’s on offer so you don’t end up in a dead-end job with no learning opportunities.

Companies often talk a good talk, and their press releases may be full of shiny CSR initiatives and all the headline-grabbing diversity programs they’re putting in place. This is your opportunity to look under the hood and see if the company lives its values on the ground.

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A company that says it is committed to doing the right thing by customers should not judge success by the number of up-sells an employee makes, for instance. Look for consistency, so you aren’t in for a culture shock after you start.

4. What is the promotion path for this role, and how would my performance on that path be measured?

To be clear, you are not asking when you will get promoted. Don’t go there—it’s presumptuous, and it indicates that you think you are better than the role you have applied for.

A career-minded candidate, on the other hand, usually has a plan that she’s working towards. This question shows you have a great drive toward growth and advancement and an intention to stick with the company beyond your current state.

How it helps you:

One word: hierarchy.

All organizations have levels of work and authority—executives, upper managers, line managers, the workforce, and so on. Understanding the hierarchical structure gives you power, because you can decide if you can work within it and are capable of climbing through its ranks, or whether it will be endlessly frustrating to you.

In a traditional pyramid hierarchy, for example, the people at the bottom tend to have very little autonomy to make decisions. This gets better as you rise up through the pyramid, but even middle managers have little power to create policy; they are more concerned with enforcing the rules the top leaders make.

If having a high degree of autonomy and accountability is important to you, you may do better in a flat hierarchy where work teams can design their own way of achieving the corporate goals.

5. What’s the most important thing the successful candidate could accomplish in their first 3 months/6 months/year?

Of all the questions to ask in a job interview, this one is impressive because it shows that you identify with and want to be a successful performer, and not just an average one.

Here, you’re drilling down into what the company needs, and needs quite urgently, proving that you’re all about adding value to the organization and not just about what’s in it for you.

How it helps you:

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Most job descriptions come with 8, 10 or 12 different job responsibilities and a lot of them with be boilerplate or responsibilities that someone in HR thinks are associated with this role. This question gives you a better sense of which responsibilities are the most important—and they may not be what initially attracted you to the role.

If you like the idea of training juniors, for example, but success is judged purely on your sales figures, then is this really the job you thought you were applying for?

This question will also give you an idea of what kind of learning curve you’re expected to have and whether you’ll get any ramp-up time before getting down to business. If you’re the type of person who likes to jump right in and get things done, for instance, you may not be thrilled to hear that you’re going to spend the first three months shadowing a peer.

6. What do you like about working here?

This simple question is all about building rapport with the interviewer. People like to talk about themselves, and the interviewer will be flattered that you’re interested in her opinions.

Hopefully, you’ll find some great connection points that the two of you share. What similar things drive you head into the office each day? How will you fit into the culture?

How it helps you:

You can learn a lot from this question. Someone who genuinely enjoys his job will be able to list several things they like, and their answers will sound passionate and sincere. If not….well, you might consider that a red flag.

Since you potentially can learn a lot about the company culture from this question, it’s a good idea to figure out upfront what’s important to you. Maybe you’re looking for a hands-off boss who values independent thought and creativity? Maybe you work better in environments that move at a rapid, exciting pace?

Whatever’s important to you, listen carefully and see if you can find any common ground.

7. Based on this interview, do you have any questions or concerns about my qualifications for the role?

What a great closing question to ask in a job interview! It shows that you’re not afraid of feedback—in fact, you are inviting it. Not being able to take criticism is a red flag for employers, who need to know that you’ll act on any “coaching moments” with a good heart.

As a bonus, asking this question shows that you are really interested in the position and wish to clear up anything that may be holding the company back from hiring you.

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How it helps you:

What a devious beast this question is! On the surface, it looks straightforward, but it’s actually giving you four key pieces of information.

First, is the manager capable of giving you feedback when put on the spot like this? Some managers are scared of giving feedback, or don’t think it’s important enough to bother outside of a formal performance appraisal. Do you want to work for a boss like that? How will you improve if no one is telling you what you did wrong?

Second, can the manager give feedback in a constructive way without being too pillowy or too confrontational? It’s unfair to expect the interviewer to have figured out your preferred way of receiving feedback in the space of an interview, but if she come back with a machine-gun fire of shortcomings or one of those corporate feedback “sandwiches” (the doozy slipped between two slices of compliment), then you need to ask yourself, can you work with someone who gives feedback like that?

Third, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about before you leave the interview. This gives you the chance to make a final, tailored sales pitch so you can convince the interviewer that she should not be worried about those things.

Fourth, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about period. If turnover is keeping him up at night, then your frequent job hopping might get a lot of additional scrutiny. If he’s facing some issues with conflict or communication, then he might raise concerns regarding your performance in this area.

Listen carefully: the concerns that are being raised about you might actually be a proxy for problems in the wider organization.

Making Your Interview Work for You

Interviews are a two-way street. While it is important to differentiate yourself from every other candidate, understand that convincing the interviewer you’re the right person for the role goes hand-in-hand with figuring out if the job is the right fit for you.

Would you feel happy in a work environment where the people, priorities, culture and management style were completely at odds with the way you work? Didn’t think so!

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Featured photo credit: Amy Hirschi via unsplash.com

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