Would you like your board to run like the well-oiled machine of the Golden State Warriors, 2017 NBA champions? I am going to demonstrate how you can achieve success by thinking like the Warriors.
Of note, I have not been inspired to follow an American sports team since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson played for the “Showtime” Lakers of the 1980s. The Warriors grabbed my attention with their beautiful, sleek and skilled playing in 2015 when they won their first NBA championship in 40 years.
The athletic and statistical prowess of each player can help make a good team yet not necessarily an extraordinary one. The key is what I call the “stealthy” skill set — those traits and experience that are not obvious on the surface, but that help to facilitate synchronicity on the court.
Some highlights of how the Warriors’ stealthy skills come into play:
Sixth man Andre Iguodala teamed up with a close friend in high school and became a self-directed stock investor. When he was a free agent a few years ago, he decided to play for the Warriors in part because of the team’s location in Silicon Valley and its ties to venture capitalists, including majority owner, Joe Lacob, a partner at Kleiner Perkins. Andre sought out VCs and personally connected with and was mentored by Ben Horowitz of Andreessen Horowitz, who recommended Andre for a portfolio company’s board seat.
Another stealth trait of Andre’s is his willingness and conviction to mentor, educate and guide more junior players in becoming champions and leaders in managing their own finances. NBA players’ careers typically last about six years. Many professional athletes don’t know how to deal with sudden wealth and wind up over-spending and then filing for bankruptcy after their playing days end. Through his mentorship, Andre contributes to the future well-being of his teammates.
Kevin Durant also embraced the Silicon Valley startup culture in starting his own investment firm, Durant Company. He has also launched a charitable foundation. Kevin is also an underground hip hop star, performing privately in his home among close friends. He describes it as music therapy; he lays down the words and it clears his mind.
Kevin, his teammates Zaza Pachulia, Draymond Green and others, along with coaches and staff, made the trek to San Quentin Prison in 2016 for the Warriors’ fifth year of playing against San Quentin’s Warriors’ basketball team. He told the inmates he wanted to “show you guys some love.” Draymond said he embraced the opportunity to “mingle and talk” and “show these guys they matter.”
Kevin appears to me to be an old soul. He emanates gentleness and sensitivity. The significance of his jersey number is a case in point: number 35, the age at which his childhood community center coach was murdered. He said, “It’s all about doing it for somebody I love. It’s not about what’s the better number and what looks better on me. It’s all about him.”
And I have to mention Stephen Curry. Is there anyone who can watch Steph Curry without a big grin on their face? Watching him play is one of the rare times when “awesome” carries the depth of its true meaning. Steph has his own charity, donating money for each three-point shot he makes to Nothing but Nets, a group that provides insecticide-treated bed nets to regions where malaria is prevalent.
Steph also maintains relationships with those who have helped him along the way. He recently returned to his high school to retire his jersey. He consults his former coaches and theater instructor about life to this day, and nurtures those friendships.
Behind the scenes, the Golden State Warriors’ General Counsel & VP of Basketball Management & Strategy David Kelly negotiates player and coach contracts, and manages legal and strategic operations for the Warriors’ forthcoming new sports and entertainment venue, Chase Center in San Francisco. He keeps all the balls in the air, so to speak. He, too, has a separate stealth skill he brings to the table: he is a successful hip hop artist. David also gives back via multiple board seats with non-profits, including the United Negro College Fund.
Finally, of note is the man who put them all together, advancing and exemplifying the theory that handcrafted, hand-picked teams are the secret to success: Warriors owner and CEO Joe Lacob (who coincidentally earned his bachelor’s degree from my alma mater, UC Irvine). He hired a general manager, Bob Myers, who had never worked for a team before, and two coaches who had not coached at any level, including beloved Warriors’ head coach Steve Kerr. OpenView recently posted these leadership lessons from Steve, and his tips apply to selecting board members: know your values and get to know your team through person-to-person relationships “based on compassion, trust and respect.” Joe also brought basketball legend Jerry West into the front office, not just as window dressing but as a real contributor. The San Francisco Chronicle noted, “One of the best things Lacob ever did was hire a presence who would offer a different opinion,” which is good insight for CEOs who prefer consensus-building boards; getting peak performance out of your team comes when differing opinions are at the table.
As Joe Lacob says, “There is an architecture to building a board of directors.” Unearthing stealth information, experience and passion that is not on a board bio, resume or LinkedIn profile is how you will create a “board of warriors” and succeed, keeping your shareholders profitable and happy.
Kim Clancy is founder and CEO of search firm Hampton O’Bannon Partners, LLC (HOP, LLC. She handcrafts retained searches in the SaaS space, helping CEOs, Nominating Governance Committee Chairs and investment bankers hand select board members for championship-level success.