Earlier this month, Gregg Popovich, head coach of the San Antonio Spurs basketball team, won his 1000th NBA basketball game, making him the 9th NBA coach in history to achieve this feat. Popovich adds this to a long list of achievements including five NBA titles with the Spurs and three NBA Coach of the Year honors. This is his 16th season as the Spurs head coach.
How has he been so successful?
Like all great leaders, Popovich creates a culture that produces sustainable superior performance. Here are four factors that contribute to making the Spurs’ culture a source of competitive advantage.
1. Intentional About Connection
Gregg Popovich is intentional about connecting with players and staff to develop relationship excellence. He stated it this way: “We are disciplined …. But that’s not enough. Relationships with people are what it’s all about. You have to make players realize you care about them. And they have to care about each other and be interested in each other.”
His intentionality begins with recruiting players who are selfless and who value teamwork. If a player becomes selfish on the court, he doesn’t last long with the Spurs.
2. Cares for Players and Staff as People
Popovich cultivates relationship excellence by maintaining an attitude of valuing players and staff as people rather than thinking of them as means to an end. He invests the time to get to know them. He’s interested in their lives outside of basketball. Tim Duncan, the Spurs’ center says, “He’s been like a father figure to me. He cares for us not only on a coaching level, but on a personal level and to have someone like that in your corner means a whole lot.” The Spurs’ point guard Tony Parker added, “…it’s not just about basketball. And it’s very rare in our business to have somebody like that.”
Popovich wouldn’t have it any other way stating, “You can only get so much satisfaction out of the ball going through the hoop. There’s gotta be more, and because … they let me get involved in their lives, it’s a real joy for me.”
3. Gives People a Voice
Another element in the Spurs’ culture is that players and staff have a voice. Stated another way, the Spurs culture has the character strengths of honesty and open-mindedness. Popovich is known for saying what he thinks. He expects and respects candor in his players and staff. They know he wants to hear their opinions and ideas. Popovich’s open-mindedness allows him to consider the ideas and opinions of others. This creates an environment that encourages frequent conversations to identify the best solutions. Once Popovich believes he has sufficient information to make a good decision, he makes it and the team moves on.
4. Has a Passion for Task Excellence
Watching the Spurs play is like watching the basketball equivalent of a Swiss watch. The precision movements, speed and coordination of the Spurs players is beautiful to behold. Many coaches throughout history have mastered task excellence; however, it is rarely sustainable. Popovich understands that without relationship excellence, task excellence and superior results are built on feet of clay. Because he intentionally develops relationship excellence among the team, the Spurs are able to achieve task excellence and sustainable superior performance.
To sum it up, coach Gregg Popovich has cultivated a culture that produces sustainable superior performance by developing both relationship excellence and task excellence. The Spurs have created a culture of connection that makes players and staff members want to give their best efforts. They align their behavior with coach Gregg Popovich’s strategy, communicate to improve decision-making on the team, and cooperate to help the team achieve its mission of winning NBA championships.
Colton Perry, an intern at E Pluribus Partners, co-authored this article.