Earning the Right to Decide

The players will get to decide. They’ve earned that right. – Coach Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors

Kerr’s comment was made to Doris Burke at halftime on April 13, 2016. The Warriors played their final regular season game heading into the playoffs. Unless you’ve been living under a rock (Hi, Mom!), you know that the Warriors were also going for a record-breaking single season win for most regular season wins in basketball history.

It’s important to note that, before the playoffs, coaches tend to rest their starters in the final games of the season once playoff seeding has largely been determined. See, the playoffs in the NBA are a 2-month ordeal and, in order for teams to go all the way, they have to be well-rested.

That being said, Coach Kerr was asked after the Warriors’ playoff seed was determined if he would rest his players in preparation of the playoffs or if he would continue playing starters for the chance at breaking the record previously held by the ’95-’96 Chicago Bulls (coincidentally, Kerr, himself, played on that team). His response was this: “My rotation is my rotation. No player will play more than 28-32 minutes.”

At halftime of this final game, the Memphis Grizzlies were close on the heels of the Warriors. And Coach Kerr gave the right to decide whether to keep playing starters or not to his players. Something that most coaches wouldn’t dream of doing. The result? The Golden State Warriors went on to break the single-season win record held by the Bulls and, as a part of both teams, Kerr managed to keep hold on the record, himself.

“Decision rights are earned, not given.” – Charles Koch, CEO of Koch Industries

This philosophy that the right to decide is earned and not given took me a while to wrap my head around. When it comes to a company, everyone has certain job responsibilities and are given authority to perform those responsibilities, right? While I can appreciate that mindset, it’s definitely not always the case. What it really comes down to is proving that you’ve earned the right to make the call.

See, that right isn’t your’s until you’ve proven that you deserve it. At that point, it really falls to you by default. That’s the best way to lead, in the first place – where your people trust you and permit you to make the decision for them. After all, what is the government without the consent of the governed?

Keep this in mind next time you’re in a power struggle situation. Next time you’re fighting for authority, ask yourself some questions:

  • Have I really proven that I deserve this?
  • What have I contributed that would make me trustworthy to make the decision?
  • Even if I can, does that mean I should?
  • Will people actually respect the decision, anyway?

This isn’t to turn you into a self-doubter, rather, to get you to perform an honest evaluation of where you stand in the matter. Maybe your decisions aren’t respected because you haven’t earned the right. Maybe it’s going to take tucking your tail between your legs a few times before you get to that point. Maybe it’s going to take some more results. Every situation is different – just like every decision is different. Whether you make the right call or not, have the guts and reliability to belong in the driver’s seat in the first place.


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