You Work For Them

Gregg Popovich is the best coach of all time, for any sport. Don’t @ me. He’s coached the San Antonio Spurs for the last 24 years, won 5 NBA championships, and hasn’t missed the playoffs once (until 2020 but we’re going to act like that didn’t happen).

The reason that he’s the best coach, is that he coaches for his players.

When they won in 2005, they were brutally boring to watch. They played slow, great ball movement, conservative, patient basketball. That year they won 59 of 82 games and were 18th in the league in scoring, with 91 points per game.

When they won in 2014, they were fun as hell to watch. They played fast, aggressive, yeeting 3’s, driving to the basket as much as possible. That year, they won 62 of 82 games and were 5th in the league in scoring, with 105 points per game.

Completely different play styles. He reinvented himself, his playbook, his system around his people. He’s not religious about his system or process (looking at you Jason Garrett). Instead, he transforms his entire approach based on the strengths of his people, and gets the job done.

Don’t think it’s all sweet though…

“We suck on defense. Both individually and team-wise, we suck. We’re pretty consistent that way. I don’t know if I have an answer to that. If I did, we wouldn’t suck quite so bad.”

Obviously not positive feedback, but notice a couple of things:

1 – He said “we” 4 times.

2 – When he said “I” he shows humility, transparency, and takes responsibility for the problem.

He adapts himself to what the moment requires on a smaller scale too. He’ll verbally pillage referees with no regard for human life. This just happens to occur when his team is losing, and much of the time, they stage a comeback after he gets kicked out of the game.

He’s also described as one of the most kind, decent, and considerate coaches in the league. He has a mandatory rule that if a current or former player ends up in the same restaurant as him, he pays the bill. The hugs that he shares with players are of a different kind than you typically see in sports. They’re meaningful and genuine.

He’s also got sense of humor. He intentionally fouled Shaq immediately after tipoff after Shaq complained about the hack-a-shaq strategy. He wrecks reporters that ask silly questions. He once sent a team employee on an all-day errand so that he could replace his beat-up old car.

He comes off like a grumpy old bastard, but he’s full of compassion and love for you if you’re in the family.

A couple of years ago, Tim Duncan, a Hall of Fame NBA player that used to play for the Spurs, took a job as an assistant coach under Popovich. This is what “Pop” had to say:

“It is only fitting, that after I served loyally for 19 years as Tim Duncan’s assistant, that he returns the favor.”

This is servant leadership.

Your job is to make your people successful.

Think about people’s time on your team as if it were a university. Stats show you’ll probably only have them for 2-4 years anyway.

Another example from Coach Pop. In 2017, Kawhi Leonard was one of the best basketball players in the league. He got injured and spent some time away from the Spurs and for lots of reasons, they had a big falling out. It was nasty. He demanded a trade, lots of media drama, and eventually he was traded. We don’t know what all went down, but we do know that Pop and Kawhi are still in close contact. And we can see how they interacted after the fact, here:

After he talks to Kawhi and Kawhi’s new shooting coach, you’ll see Pop hug another player not on the Spurs. That’s Danny Green. Another player who won championships with Pop.

Yes there is a lot that you need your employees to do while they work for you, but the ultimate goal is for them to ‘graduate.’ Do your job in a way that develops them. That helps them grow. That improves their life, both at the time and in the future. And when the time comes for them, or you, to move on – don’t stop loving them. How sad is a life where job titles dictate importance of relationships?

On your death bed, you will not remember whether you made or missed a target. You will remember how you helped people.

And how you didn’t.