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Mark Thompson

The #1 Hack from the NBA Finals To Help You Win at Work

How do you convince your team not only to embrace change, but actually lead the transformation? One of the most successful senior business communication executives of our time,  Mark C. Thompson shares his insights from studying the success of world-class companies that have confronted change. He shows audiences the factors that galvanize people to adapt to and lead change, and to generate teams that lead to unstoppable growth. Below, Mark looks at what it really takes to succeed as a team at the highest level:

The epic battle for the NBA finals was a great lesson in leadership. What would happen when the best TEAM went up against arguably the best PLAYER (Cleveland Cavaliers’ Le Bron James) in the NBA? For either franchise, this year’s finals would be historic. The Warriors had a 40-year drought since their last championship and the Cavaliers have never won the title. It would be a great story for either underdog.

Golden State wasn’t supposed to be this good and hadn’t won a championship since 1975 – when most of the player’s parents were kids and bell bottom plaid pants were in style. Despite having some great players over the years, the Warriors hadn’t been able to find the secret of success for a very long time. For the Cavs, they were hoping that the triumphant return of their hometown hero NBA superstar LeBron James would finally help them break the curse and bring a championship to the loyal fans of this hardworking Midwest city.

So would it be the superstar or the best team? Spoiler alert — The best TEAMtriumphed!

The Golden State Warriors are the NBA Champs! Wait…what? Come again? How could that possibly have happened? The current ownership group of the Warriors – led by my friend and inspiration, Peter Guber, and Joe Lacob – made an incredible bet on this organization when they took over in 2010. Peter and I sat in his private box shortly after his bold investment as he described what I must admit sounded outrageous at the time. He wanted to build not only a great team, but an organization that could achieve lasting success and bring pride to the community. But all NBA owners have that goal! What would make a turnaround possible for the Warriors over the next few years?

The slogan “Strength In Numbers” truly speaks to the culture of the Warriors’ organization. From the owners to the last man on the bench, they know that no one can do anything worthwhile alone. This Warriors team, coach and ownership exemplify the partnership of “Hubris and Humility” – the combination of ambition and grace – two leadership traits that lead to long-term success in business, athletics or nearly any other pursuit. Watching the post-game interviews after they won the Championship, you could see that every single champagne-soaked player on the Warriors team embodied this humility–each giving credit to all the other players, their wonderful coach and the visionary owners of the team and none touting their own individual performance.

The Cavaliers, led by LeBron James, did not have that same humility. While LeBron will undoubtedly go down as one of the most talented players in NBA history – no one would name him among the game’s most gracious, unselfish or humble. (Pre-game interviewers asked LeBron what gave him the confidence to believe that the Cavs would win and his deadpan answer was, “because I’m the best player in the world!”) That lack of humility and the feeling that he has to make everything happen, always have the ball in his hands, and carry the entire team may be the one thing that keeps him from becoming one of the most successful players in terms of championships.

The Warriors team has exactly the opposite mentality, and it is precisely why they emerged victorious after a long season and hard-fought run through the playoffs! They have an incredible will to work hard and win, but are a team of outstanding role players who work together like a well-oiled machine. Each player adjusted to a different role as needed for each game and for each opposing team they faced – not only throughout the playoffs and finals, but throughout the entire year.

Cleveland, on the other hand had one superstar who overshadows everyone else. Everyone looked to LeBron to be the visionary and the playmaker on every play. People may say that Cleveland lost because of injuries to key players, that they had to rely on inexperienced players due to those injuries and that LeBron didn’t have the team that he needed to win it all. But the fact is that great TEAMS step up in the face of such adversity, they make adjustments and pull together to do what they have to do TOGETHER to win. And that was the key to the Warriors success all season long.

Golden State came into the finals as the underdogs even though they had the best record in The NBA all year long! Their rookie coach, Steve Kerr, led the Warriors to 67 regular season wins – a record that blew away the previous record set by any NBA rookie coach. But having Kerr at the helm – who was a 5-time NBA champ as a player – was another visionary move by the team’s owners. Having a coach who had been in the players’ shoes and truly knows what it takes to win multiple championships was another key to their success. But one of Kerr’s defining traits both as a player and now as a coach is his humility. He shies away from the celebrations and the cameras and interviews at the end of a game – pushing his players forward into the limelight to let them take the credit for their success.

The Warriors’ star, Stephen Curry, is a magician on the court – and at 6’3″, smaller than most of the NBA’s superstars. He’s a “lights out” shooter who consistently makes ridiculous shots from any angle anywhere on the court against any opponent. An unlikely superstar, Steph won the NBA’s regular season MVP award for helping to lead his team to those 67 regular season wins. But no one in the league is more humble about his success than Steph. always thanking God, his family, his coaches, teammates, the owners and the fans – he looks uncomfortable in almost every press conference when asked about his own phenomenal individual performances and always gives it up to his teammates.

And no one was more complimentary than Curry than when the Finals MVP honor was bestowed to his teammate Andre Iguodala – who, during the regular season, had been asked to step down from his starting role, but then stepped in to guard LeBron James throughout the Finals. Iguodala was asked to be a starter for the last three games of the Finals — all of which the Warriors won in large part thanks to his tenacity. Andre himself said that he was anxious about the job of guarding James and had to step it up to a level that he didn’t even know he had within him! Iguodala’s well-deserved MVP award for the Finals was a perfect ending – showcasing that unselfishness, humility, and sacrifice for the good of the entire organization lifts everyone to a higher level of success.

I’m lucky to have a team of my own, lead by the remarkable Daria Wagganer who made this article possible. She’s a passionate marketing chief, professional engineer, musician, mom and unequalled sports fan who inspires all of us in every role on the court. Congratulations to world-class entertainment entrepreneurs, Peter Guber and Joe Lacob, and the entire Golden State Warriors organization for showing all of us on and off the court the tenacity, guts and humility that it really takes to succeed as a TEAM at the highest level–and that nobody does it alone!

Mark C. Thompson/Inc.com/June, 2015