Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, Deming, and Lean Leadership
Since moving to San Antonio two years ago, I’ve become a big fan of the San Antonio Spurs. For one, it’s essentially a civic responsibility to cheer for them, with the Spurs being the only major pro team in town. They are similar to the Green Bay Packers in that regard.
Second, they are a fun team to watch. I’m not sure where the “boring” reputation comes from, unless winning 50+ games every year bores you. They aren’t a high flying “Lob City” team but they play team basketball and they do it well.
Third, they play as a team. Finally, they seem like a classy bunch who are good members of the community. Oh, and they don’t have a racist owner.
I’m also a big fan of the quirky head coach, Gregg Popovich (recently named coach of the year in the NBA).
My friend Chad Walters recently blogged about Pop’s humble leadership style. He’s not the type of corporate chieftain or hospital CEO who feels like he has all of the answers. He doesn’t have to micromanage things.
“Sometimes in timeouts I’ll say, ‘I’ve got nothing for you. What do you want me to do? We just turned it over six times. Everybody’s holding the ball. What else do you want me to do here? Figure it out.'”
Pop seems like the type of leader who helps:
- Get the right players on the team
- Make sure the players know their roles
- Plan, practice, and prep
- Let the players execute and take responsibility
I had a chance to watch Coach Pop at work at a Spurs game earlier this year. He’s definitely one of the more low-key and less demonstrative coaches in the game. He doesn’t seem to get too high or too low and that probably serves to keep the professionals he coaches pretty calm and focused.
Wednesday night, Pop was interviewed during the game (something he famously has little patience for).
He was asked a question about Kawhi Leonard:
“How do you get Kawhi going?”
“I don’t get him going. He’s a fine young man.”
That reminds me of the leadership idea from W. Edwards Deming:
“…if management stopped demotivating their employees then they wouldn’t have to worry so much about motivating them.”
Pop can’t motivate Kawhi. He can only hope to not demotivate him.
As Chad Walters quoted in his post:
“I think competitive character people don’t want to be manipulated constantly to do what one individual wants them to do. It’s a great feeling when players get together and do things as a group. Whatever can be done to empower those people.”
I think the same is true for people in hospitals, software startups, or factories. You don’t have to manipulate people. Lead. Empower. Tap into their intrinsic motivation. Set direction rather than directing every detail. That’s leadership.
Go Spurs Go!