Steve Kerr, head coach of the Golden State Warriors was asked the reason his team defeated LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers for the 2017 NBA championship. He answered in one word: "Unselfish."
The NBA Finals were a feast for basketball junkies like me. The excitement extended far beyond the games themselves. The players put on an exhibition that demonstrated the importance of sharing the glory.
When you have a championship-caliber team and then you add another superstar like Kevin Durant to the mix, you can either implode or you can win a championship. With all those NBA All-Stars on the court, there aren't enough basketballs to go around.
There are, if you are the Warriors. The team embraced their star newcomer with no jealousy. The team's sole goal was to win a championship, which they did by sharing the ball.
It doesn't hurt to have a winner like Steve Kerr leading you. Kerr took his college basketball team, the University of Arizona, to the NCAA Final Four. He won five NBA championships as a player, three with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls and two with the San Antonio Spurs. Now he's won two more as a coach.
As President Harry Truman said so well: "It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit."
Being unselfish is also important in business. It's one of the cornerstones of leadership - the willingness to sacrifice for others. It's putting the interests of the team ahead of your own personal needs and desires. Whether your business is basketball or ball bearings, the organizations that want to stay in business recognize that everyone has a role to play.
Steve Kerr is a master of this. He stood in the background as his players celebrated. He put his team first.
How many of us have worked with people who do a little of the work and want all the credit? But then when there is a problem, they are the first to blame others.
Being unselfish runs counter to what many people think is important to getting ahead in business. You want to be noticed for your successes, even if others contributed to them. You don't want your superstar image to be diminished by sharing the glory. But that is not a winning strategy. We much prefer to work with and for team players.
Charles William Eliot, who served as Harvard University President for 40 years, offered this wisdom: "Be unselfish. That is the first and final commandment for those who would be useful and happy in their usefulness. If you think of yourself only, you cannot develop because you are choking the source of development, which is spiritual expansion through thought for others."
If you want to follow his advice, consider these traits of truly unselfish people:
- They share the credit. In giving others recognition, they acknowledge the contributions made by co-workers and set the stage for future cooperation. They realize that setting a good example encourages others to appreciate the importance of teamwork.
- They truly help others. When there are problems or setbacks, they look for ways to solve them rather than assessing blame. They are willing to share knowledge that will be useful down the road.
- They have others' best interests in mind. They see the benefits of making everyone on their team successful, and then do their best to help their co-workers improve. They understand that everyone is trying to get ahead and support their efforts.
- They are trusted. They keep their word. They do what they say they will do. People working with them know they can depend that they won't get thrown under the bus when a project goes awry. They know they will be treated respectfully even when they disagree.
- They are resilient. They can accept setbacks gracefully, and understand that sometimes the biggest failures can lead to the biggest successes. They don't point fingers, instead pointing their colleagues back on track.
- They welcome ideas and input from others. They realize that there is often more than one way to solve a problem, and that they do not always have all the answers. They aren't threatened by other viewpoints. They keep their focus on achieving the goal, not being right all the time.
Give these ideas some serious thought - and you will be a champion in your own right.
Mackay's Moral: It doesn't take great people to do great things, just unselfish ones.