Gregg Popovich has built the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs into a billion dollar enterprise in a small market. He has built a culture in the organization that may have some good insights for business leaders.
He has seen great success in his 16 year reign:
- He is the longest tenured coach with the same team among the 122 NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLB coaches.
- He is the only active coach with multiple NBA championships.
- He is 1 of 5 coaches in NBA history with 4 or more championships.
- His .675 winning percent is 3rd in NBA history.
Observers believe he has had all this success because of the culture he has installed at San Antonio. That culture encompasses three ingredients: character, care, and unselfishness.
He works hard at bringing players of great character to his teams. This is a must if a player is to succeed in the Popovich system. Many NBA teams build their offensive systems on isolation plays whereas his system is based on the pass. A player’s individual statistics very well may diminish in the Popovich system because he has to sacrifice his success for the team success. Only men of character can buy into this culture.
He believes leaders must care for the people in their charge and puts it this way in his own words:
“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. Then they start to feel a responsibility toward each other. Then they DO for each other.”
Unselfishness is the hallmark of his teaching. Bill Russell may have expressed this well in describing the success of his Celtic teams. He said that when the Boston players walked into the building, they left their egos at the door. However, what they did have was Team Ego. Popovich’s teams have won 50 or more games in 15 of his 16 years there and were 37-14 in the shortened NBA lockout season. I think they have had the same Team Ego of Russell’s Celtics. The basis of that success has been the players’ commitment to unselfishness.
Character, care, and unselfishness are not bad traits on which to build a culture in any organization.