CEO’s View: Building Confidence and the NBA Finals

The CEO of Proggio is Yaniv Shor. From time to time he shares his musings on the view from his desk. Today Yaniv shares the project management lessons from the NBA Finals he learned watching the Golden State Warriors defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the opening two games – building confidence for your team is crucial.

Lessons From The NBA Finals

How important is building confidence in your team?

In the NBA Finals it was as important as getting two critical 3-points shots from a guy that was 0-6 till that point. Draymond Green of Golden State who scored these critical shots said after the game, “My coach gave me the confidence.”

What can a project manager learn from that, and how is confidence built in the first place?

Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors is not the best 3-point shooter, especially when compared to some of the other deep marksmen in the Finals, like LeBron James, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.

Entering the finals, Green was only 3 out of 22 from the 3-point line. Not the guy I would expect to take the responsibility in crunch time! In Game 1 against Cleveland he started zero for six from the field – then hit two critical 3 pointers. In Game 2 he was 2-5, and again both shots were critical to Golden State’s win.

By keeping Green’s confidence high, Steve Kerr, Golden State’s coach, managed to get more from him in an area that was not considered his best. That effort was a crucial part of Golden State’s victory in Game 1.

Embrace a 100% Failure Projection, and Win

When trying to be effective, one can’t make 100% calls on any issue. Some level of tolerance for mistakes should be kept. 90% confidence sounds right in most cases, but it really is not that simple. For a guy making 10 decisions a week, 90% confidence statistically can mean 100% failure at the end of the week. While 90% sounds like a high level of confidence to start with, if the failed decision has significant implications at project level, nobody cares that the risk was only 10% afterwards.

When the moment comes, and “stuff happened,” the project manager is on the spot. Can he endorse effective risk assessment and show that the apparent mistake was the right thing to do? Or is he going to just go with the wind and provide negative feedback for a decision that was the right one to make at the time?

Making the right choice here is not always easy, but it is well worth it in the long term. Steve Kerr could have stopped Draymond Green at any point on his way to 0-6. Instead, he decided to ask him to continue shooting and got those two critical shots. Green told the press that in Game 2 it was his teammates who were pushing him to shoot – Kerr’s confidence was so clear that the players followed along.

Confidence is Effective

There is no doubt self-confidence is important, and considered attractive. It is well recognized in the way one talks, behaves, or even walks. When confidence leads to speaking up, leveraging opportunities, and even managing conflicts in a positive way, it also imparts a better probability for success.

Taking this insight into team management, a team leader can increase the probability for success by increasing confidence level among team members. It is not about building new capabilities, it is about making sure that existing capabilities are used optimally. Building confidence starts with optimizing your team for success – put them in the right position, and give them the opportunity to shine.

Green didn’t learn how to shoot from Steve Kerr that night, he was just gaining confidence to use his already existing skills at the right time – and he did, to devastating effect!

Draymond Green in the NBA Finals
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The Way to Build Confidence

Of all the project management lessons from the NBA Finals to learn, “confidence is a means to success” is the one I think is most actionable. We need to ask ourselves what’s the right way to instill it among team members? Let’s look into the dictionary definition of confidence:

“A feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.”

The definition clarifies that building confidence actually takes two separate steps.

The first, and maybe the more interesting one, is getting to recognize the abilities and qualities of the team members. Without recognizing such capabilities, we can’t actually appreciate them.

The second is finding ways to appreciate team members for their abilities. It can be done in status meetings, in reaction to progress, and in small-talk here and there – there are endless options.

It Starts With YOU

Steve Kerr was a great 3-point shooter when back he was playing, and from his experiences he knows something about the confidence required to maintain this capability over time. His experiences put him in the position to give other people the confidence they need.

As with the Golden State Warriors and their coach, it all starts with YOU – the project manager. Are you confident? Are you sure in the team’s abilities and qualities? Do you believe in the project’s probability of success?

If you answered no, your team will start with your own confidence, and you will see how it flows around you. If you answered yes, you’ll see how your enthusiasm will be contagious among your team. Building confidence among the team starts at the top, and it makes a difference in the long term.