You just lost a top performer on your team and you’re upset about it. You’re wondering how you’ll fill the void, how your competition will use it against you, how you’ll make up the lost revenue and how the loss of a star will affect the rest of your team.

If you’re wondering how to move forward in your company or department after losing a star, look to Nick Nurse.  Nurse is the head coach of the NBA Champion Toronto Raptors and has reasons to be frustrated.  His star player, Kawhi Leonard, left the team after only one season to take a 4 year, $141 million offer from the Los Angeles Clippers. The Raptors now face a very different reality heading into this season: they’re without the guy who made their team great.

Nurse could sulk, point fingers, blame Obama, say the sun was in his eyes, or a number of different factors.  But sometimes people’s decisions are out of our control. And when they are, leaders need to show leadership.

And Nurse did.

In a recent interview by Nick Friedell of ESPN, Nurse cleared the air and did 4 things a good manager and leader should do when losing a star contributor:

  1. acknowledge the obvious loss of a valuable employee
  2. show thanks for their contributions
  3. clear the air to avoid any gossip
  4. move on to plan for the team’s future success

In the interview, Nurse acknowledged the obvious-that losing Leonard stings.

“It’s certainly disappointing,” Nurse said. “I think, first of all, he’s a great person. He was unbelievably fun to coach, just locked in and loaded and ready to go. People would ask me, ‘What was it like coaching him?’ And I always said the best thing was I got to stand there on the courtside and watch this guy go to work.

He showed thanks to Leonard for what he meant to the team. “I said ‘You’ve changed a lot of lives, man, by what you’ve accomplished in Toronto. Mine especially.’ And thanked him for what he did,” said Nurse.

Then Nurse explained the circumstances of Leonard’s departure in a respectful way that all parties would agree to and would calm any jitters, quell gossip or cause finger-pointing.  He described Leonard’s free agency move as part homecoming and part business. “I think you can’t blame a guy for wanting to go home,” Nurse said Saturday night at the Las Vegas Summer League. “That’s what he texted me today. ‘I’m going home.’ And he educated the media and fans on the Raptors management’s view of Leonard’s time in Toronto. Nurse said the possibility of Leonard leaving was always something the organization was aware of from the moment it acquired him from the San Antonio Spurs.

But then, as any great leader does when acknowledging a setback, Nurse looked to the future and created the right mindset on his team to be successful in the future.

“Look to the future and try to do it again next year,” Nurse said. “I don’t know at this particular time how we do it, but it’s not unlike going into a playoff series. I’d look at these teams and I’d say, ‘I don’t know how in the hell we’re going to beat them,’ and then you go to work and put a plan together. So right now I’m not sure how we’re going to be able to do it, other than we’re going to come out and guard you, and we’re going to move the ball, and we’re going to play with energy, and we’re going to try and play a lot of people, and we’re going to keep developing our guys. And Masai and [general manager] Bobby [Webster] will keep acquiring talent. And I’ll coach the team that they give me, and I’ll do that to the best of my ability.”

Nurse also undoubtedly knew that to attract and retain future great employees meant he had to show respect to Leonard throughout this process.  No bitterness, no kicking the employee on the exit. It was all class.

And, of course, a champion-winning coach like Nurse didn’t lose his competitive spirit in the process.

Of Leonard, he said “Now we got to go kick his ass.”

Exactly. Moving on to next season…what every great leader should do when you lose a great contributor.

Pete Havel is author of ‘The Arsonist in the Office: Fireproofing Your Life Against Toxic Coworkers, Bosses, Employees and Cultures’, the CEO of the Cloture Group–a consulting and training firm for cultural transformation, a public speaker, a regional executive for some of America’s leading trade associations and a former chamber of commerce president.  He can be reached at pete@petehavel.com or 855-NO-ARSON (855-662-7766).  The Arsonist in the Office is available at http://www.arsonistintheoffice.com or Amazon.


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