Five thoughts on leadership, featuring Steve Kerr, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner

Leadership lessons with Steve Kerr

Last summer I read this article in Sports Illustrated on Steve Kerr, head coach of the Golden State Warriors and, from all accounts, an excellent leader and all-around wonderful human being. It’s a great article on leadership, his approach to coaching the Warriors, and how the health challenges Kerr faced last year (complications from back surgery) have forced him to reevaluate things. One part has stuck with me; the author, Chris Ballard, shares with Kerr five practices of exemplary leaders, as defined by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner in their book The Leadership Challenge.

I’ve been thinking about leadership a lot lately as that’s where I’m finding my passion as my career evolves. Here are my five quick thoughts on those five practices:

1. Model the Way (set an example for how you want others to act).

Leading by example should be the easiest of these leadership practices, but it’s one I see so many managers and leaders fail at. I’m not sure why. I think a lot of it has to do with simply slowing down, and considering your actions and your words and thinking, how would I respond if others acted this way? If your response is negative, then reconsider your approach.

2. Inspire a Shared Vision (get buy-in for a common goal and believe in it passionately).

I think a lot of leaders find this one daunting, because they don’t feel they are inspiring and because the word “vision” itself can seem intimidating; after all, most jobs are just that, jobs, and don’t exactly inspire great visions. But succeeding at this one starts with a combination of modeling the way, and of setting team goals, with well-defined objectives and clear expectations for all team members. No grand vision required: just a path to success.

3. Challenge the Process (see risks as opportunities).

Ah, the one every leader likes to say, and most want, but few can actually do, especially in large organizations. Creating actual change can be extremely difficult, and politics and hierarchies often throw up roadblocks that force people into the same patterns and bad habits. The important thing is for leaders to avoid throwing up their hands in frustration. Do that behind closed doors. When your team comes to you and their struggling to move forward, use the “Yes, and…?” approach to acknowledge their challenge and encourage them to think of solutions.

4. Enable Others to Act (empowering those around you).

This is the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning. Sometimes it’s easy, when you have those go-getters on your team who know exactly what they want and all you need to do is say “yes, go.” The challenge is helping those who don’t know what they want, figure it out. To me, that comes with getting to know people, caring about them, listening to them—even, and perhaps especially, when they’re not talking about work or their career or ongoing development. And then start with providing ownership of little things. Make them responsible for updating a report each month. Have them attend a meeting instead of you. And grow those responsibilities over time.

5. Encourage the Heart (focus on the humanity of people, and make them “feel like heroes”).

I am finding that even though organizationally, businesses are getting a bit better at focusing on employees as human beings, in marketing, we might be going in the opposite direction. We’ve placed such an emphasis in the last 10-15 years, with the advent of digital marketing, on data and measurable results that some of the “soft skills” are being ignored. As a leader I think the most important thing you can for your team is have their back. Recognize them when they succeed (especially in front of others, where appropriate) and use constructive feedback and positive reinforcement to put them back on the path to success when they fail.


None of this is rocket science; it usually all comes down to communication and consistency. But I do think it’s important to stop and remind ourselves of these things every once in a while; even the most experienced leader can lose sight of them.