Leadership Lessons From Dwane Casey’s December Turnaround

The Toronto Raptor’s coach Dwane Casey was awarded the Eastern Conference’s coach of the month title for December after leading the team to six road wins, for a total of seven victories out of last month’s nine games. It shows that, even with a rocky start that had led many to speculate he’d lose control of his team, Casey can be a textbook leader worth his salt. Here’s why he earned the leadership honours—plus, how you can learn from his example.

He stays calm to earn respect from his critics
Point guard Kyle Lowry and Casey haven’t had the best relationship, with Casey allegedly keeping Lowry on mothballs in favour of Jose Calderon (until Calderon was dealt away) due to an apparent lack of trust. This lead to Lowry acting out at his coach after a game against Sacramento back in December. Casey, on the other hand—and much to the chagrin of Lowry, we’re sure—appeared as polite as ever, iterating that Lowry had “done nothing wrong” and keeping a level head, at least in public. Regardless of who’s right and who’s wrong, Casey eventually gave Lowry more control, and now Lowry’s giving his boss kudos, something that wouldn’t have happened if Casey had lost his cool at the beginning of their disagreement.

He knows it wasn’t him out on the court, it was his team
He gives credit where credit is due, and that means giving it all to the players that make up his team. “I’m sincere when I say that. It’s almost embarrassing. The guys have done all the work,” Casey told the Toronto Star. It’s a stock response, but the guy has always appeared genuine in his interviews. This created a much lighter work environment for the Raps and, after a few wins, the guys even started looking like they’re having fun out on the pine.

… but he still knows where and how to take credit
Taking credit at work without looking like a sod can be hard, especially if you’re in a leadership role that, by its very nature, demands you give it away. However, Casey clearly has plans to capitalize on what amount of credit he does take behind the scenes—that is, he is almost certainly posturing for his next contract negotiation, and doing so with relative grace in the eyes of both the fans and his team.

He makes calculated decisions
Whether you call it addition by subtraction or just addition by addition, Casey’s controversial Rudy Gay trade appears to be the corner the Raptors had to turn just before hitting their hot streak. Sure, this is not a unique position for an NBA coach, but identifying a weak point on a payroll and eliminating it is very hard for leaders to do in team-based workplaces off the court; it’s still a responsibility they have to take on with a results-oriented attitude. Casey’s move spurred a shift in attitude and shift in roster balance, and now the Raptors are undeniably moving confidently and meshing more closely as a result.

He knows success is based on team growth
It looks like Casey’s team is on the up and up, going from “that team from Canada” to a group suddenly demanding serious attention from its neighbours to the south. Casey’s always been about developing young talent, and has helped players such as Jonas Valanciunas grow up with honest feedback—praising his good efforts and critiquing his failures. Now he’s reaping the rewards. Like at the workplace, the bottom line is rarely the best indicator of success. If a leader helps his employees grow, his company grows by extension.

He doesn’t get by on small victories
The Raptors’ moment in the limelight ended recently, and in fact they’re on a -1 losing streak after they went up against two-time defending champions the Miami Heat. However, the Toronto Sun reports Casey adopted a “close isn’t close enough” attitude in his talk with the team afterwards, and as well he should: the mark of a true leader is not getting gummed up in sitting on one’s laurels, but looking forward to the next challenge.


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