What Warriors Coach Kerr can teach us about leadership in health care

Rhonda Foster, EdD, MPH, MS, RN, NEA-BC
Principal Consultant, Nursing Leadership

I must confess I am an avid Golden State basketball fan. And this season was, of course, another exciting one to root for the Warriors.

As a leader and student of leadership, I am inclined to view even basketball through a leadership lens.   With that in mind, I believe that Coach Steve Kerr has applied some principles and practices during his years of coaching — especially this year — that would serve healthcare leaders well.  Here are some examples.

Healthcare is very competitive, and therefore your number one status is never guaranteed.  In fact, it will be challenged even more as you become more successful.  Coach Kerr realizes that even after the season is over, his leadership responsibilities continue: player selection, sustaining a culture of excellence, leading a team of high performers and getting ready for the next season.  Healthcare leaders must select employees that have values that align with their mission/vision/values and sustain a culture of excellence after organizational goals have been achieved.  Most important is constantly identifying approaches that keep high performing team members challenged, inspired and connected.
As a leader, it was impressive to see this shared decision-making in practice.  Our leadership roles require us to be attuned to signs of disengagement, boredom and a lack of interest in the work at hand, especially after times of great success. But how often when our teams become “sloppy, bored and need to be reengaged” do we pull back, concerned that additional responsibilities will create more stress and complaints?  It is imperative to engage every team member who is charged with doing the work and accomplishing the goals.   It is a sign of respect and acknowledgement of expertise, allowing the leader to lead from a different position and perspective.
Coach Kerr was quoted in an interview after winning his third NBA Championship that his most important role is one of guide.   “I have talented players,” he emphasized, “and as a guide it allows them as leaders to set the tone.”
Leading talented team members takes courage, expertise and trust.  It is a leader’s dream to have a high-performing team that is committed to excellence and achieves organizational goals and objectives.  However, it is an awesome responsibility whether you are winning championships or running a health care organization or department.   I thank Coach Steve Kerr for reminding us of what it takes to be a truly great leader and guide.