Wisdom on Leadership from Greg Popovich

The San Antonio Spur's coach delivers basic truths about winning.

Greg Popovich is recognized as one of the best coaches in the NBA today. Here are some excerpts form his press conferences at the recent 2013 NBA Championship.

When asked about having his star guard Tony Parker on the bench at the end of the game: “That was my decision.”

The decision backfired. They fumbled away their chance to win. The one person who usually would have been handling the ball was on the bench. This is the same one who almost always finds a way to win in the closing seconds, even if it means doing something seemingly impossible.

Popovich wasn’t blaming anyone else. Although well aware he was being heavily criticized for the decision, he wasn’t explaining or trying to convince everyone he had done the right thing. He didn’t care. He had his reasons. Maybe Parker was injured, or maybe he was exhausted. Regardless, the coach wasn’t going to give an answer that would have sent the reporters running to Parker for more information. His coach was going to protect him. Obviously if there had been anyway Parker could have performed, Popovich would have had him in there – but he didn’t. Why? Coaches decision. No excuses. No explanation. The coach stood up and took responsibility – the mark of a winning leader. No excuses.

“A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.” —Arnold H. Glasgow

When asked about how the game was going to go in the pre-game press conference: “I have no clue what’s going to happen tonight. All I do is hope. I hope my team will compete for 48 minutes, and we’ll come out on top in the end. But I have no idea.”

No one knows the future. Not even a coach who has won 4 Championships. Not even after an 82 game season and 3 playoff series. That’s why you can’t take things for granted. You can’t guarantee success. You can only prepare and give it everything you’ve got. All the hard work gives you a chance to win, but there are no guarantees.

When asked about how he got his team to recover from losing Game 6? “All you can do is put things in perspective; get to the point where you slap yourself and you decide you’re not going to cry about it and pity yourself. Then move on to get your mind back on what you’ve still got going for you, and what things you still are able to do. That way you can put the past in the past and start to move forward again.”

He was talking about how they made a mental recovery from a devastating defeat like they had after losing Game 6, being ahead by 5 point with 28 seconds left. They had another game to play, another chance; but they knew if they hadn’t blown the lead the series would be over, and they would be holding the Championship – happy, excited, and on their way home.

Popovich’s response is pretty close to the best approach one can take when recovering from any kind of devastating loss. It’s mainly a mental recovery, and there aren’t a lot of ways to deal with it – you just have to face reality and move on.

When asked if he was finally ready to move on from the pressure and retire: “Vacation is overrated. It’s great to take a break after a stressful time, but pretty soon things start to get boring. The only time to think about retiring is when you find you no longer care, you no longer want to compete and improve.”

That’s what a lot of high-powered people discover. Working to achieve great things may be stressful, but it’s rewarding, and a lot more fun than sitting around waiting for something to do.


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