The San Antonio Spurs and the Myth of the Small-Market Loser

If you have been reading this blog for more than a minute, you recognize that this blogger loves teamwork, sports, organizations, leadership, and humility – and it is like my birthday when all of these topics collide!

As much as I wish I could say that this article was about the resurgence of my hometown Pistons, as they won the NBA Draft Lottery – oh wait, that didn’t happen. Well at least we kept our first round pick and will be able to still field a growing young team. Wait, that didn’t happen either? Well, at least the Cavs didn’t get to move up again. No? That did happen, they actually “won” the lottery for the 3rd time in 4 years (and this time with a 1.7% chance)? REALLY???? – sorry about that digression, it might be a little bitterness in my system this morning, ok enough about this, today I want to point out just how amazing the San Antonio Spurs are.Image

Within professional sports, one of the constant myths is that teams in the large markets are always the winner. This myth was largely built in the 1980s and 1990s when LA, NY, Chicago ruled professional sports. But in the present environment of league-wide TV deals, social media exposure, and salary caps (in all sports but baseball – though spending more money doesn’t even guarantee things there, just ask the Yankees, Mets, and Phillies of the last few seasons).

An amazing thing happened way back in 1987, the San Antonio Spurs, a team that was one of four ABA teams given “expansion rights” by the NBA to join their league only 11 seasons prior, drafted a 4-year player from Navy named David Robinson. The following year, the team added two assistant coaches to the staff of Larry Brown, R.C. Buford and Gregg Poppovich. In 1993 Peter Holt, the owner of the largest Caterpillar dealership in the United States came on as a part-owner (attaining majority shares of the team later). Then after a horrific 1998 season saw the firing of the head coach and the General Manager (Poppovich) stepping in as the interim coach, the Spurs won the NBA Draft Lottery and drafted Tim Duncan, 4 year player out of Wake Forest University. The primary pieces were in place to form one of the greatest most consistent franchises in all of professional sports.

These Spurs, with an owner who has made his mark with a values-based focus on business, a GM and Coach who have successfully built a roster and coaching staff with underappreciated names, who are well-trained, and fit their organization have become the standard bearer in the NBA. They have won 4 championships since 1999-99 season (the most by any team during this 15 year time frame), making the Western Conference Finals 9 times in that span, and never falling below a .610 win percentage each year (averaged 57 wins a season during that span), and never missing the playoffs. This is all being accomplished as the smallest of the three Texas cities represented in the NBA, and the 4th smallest market of any NBA franchise.

So how do they do it? They win as an organization! Name a player on the team that has ever established a me-first attitude during this era? When is Poppovich a distraction to the team? When does Buford blow a draft-pick (without at least flipping that person in a later deal), what free agents do they bring in that don’t fit? How?

Identity! They know who they are. They know what they want to accomplish, and they find players who fit that type of culture, regardless of personal background (last year they had 10 international players to start their season on a 15-man roster). They win, but they do it with class and with teamwork. If the Red Wings are the class of the NHL, the Spurs are certainly the class of the NBA!

Could 2014 mean another ring for this elite franchise?

Why do some organizations “get it” and others don’t?

What are the bedrock values in your organization? Do you hire based on values? Does everyone from the CEO through the rest of the organization understand these values?

[Friday Coaching Corner] How Humility Impacts Organizations

This post continues the series on humility, previous posts can be found here and here. It also is part of the weekly Friday “Coaching Corner” (a deeper, more  in-depth focus on organizational development and related subjects)

When I began examining humility one thing bothered within the literature – it only examined and discussed humility as something that happens within the individual. As a researcher and practitioner focused on teams and groups, I was more interested in how humility (which as I have already posted in this series is one of my favorite topics to discuss) can transcend the individual and actually make its home within the fabric of a group or team. So I set out to build a case that this very thing was a reality. A discussion of the research, and its implications for organizations follows.

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The Perception of Group Humility (PGH) Scale was developed through a two-part research study examining individuals working as Emergency Medical Technicians in part 1, and those who are Middle School Teachers in part 2. Saving you the very technical aspects of the research (e.g. validation, factor analysis and the like). In the second study, an examination of the relationship between the PGH scale and some very important organizational activities was engaged. The results were overwhelmingly positive!

The results of this study presented that the existence of higher levels of the PGH positively related to the existence of Participative Leadership Behaviors (willingness for leaders to allow others to participate in the leadership process), Collective Efficacy (expectation that a group can accomplish the tasks before them), Organizational Citizenship Behaviors (positive behaviors enacted by members of an organization to show care for others), and Team-Learning Orientation (the focus a group has on learning).

These findings are important to any organization, as within the present organizational environment a great deal of collaboration and sharing of resources is needed for a positive, learning-centered culture. At the core, the humility virtue – and by extension, the group humility phenomena – seems to render a path forward in understanding how the challenge of individual and collective humility can be best engendered.

This path forward occurs as the organization promotes the value of humility as advantageous to their culture and performance. The understanding that humility includes a low self-focus, accurate portrayal of self and others, willingness to learn, and appreciation of others can serve to aid organizations significantly.Some areas that humility has the distinct potential to impact organizations are: long-term planning, enculturation of new organizational members, leadership development, and group functioning.

In this research, humility was examined for its ability to transcend the individual and become a group trait/norm. Through the perception of group members participating in Study I was validated. Group members were able to perceive within their teams/groups the presence of a willingness to learn, proper placement of self in relation to others, care and concern for group members, and an accurate self-knowledge. In Study II, the four hypotheses were examined, with each data set displaying a significant, positive relationships between Perceived Group Humility and the outcome variable. In each of the regression analyses a positive relationship was found, as had been posited based on the theoretical underpinnings found in the literature. The strength of the relationship in each of the four was more than expected, with the final three hypotheses showing extremely strong relationship.

The statistical results of this research inquiry present an important case for the value of PGH in its relationship to other positive, other-oriented (and well accepted) group constructs. As such, we see the multi-functional aspect of group humility with its influence on leadership behaviors, expectations of efficacy, citizenship behaviors, and learning paradigm. While it is too soon to say what this construct will show over the course of time, the PGH scale clearly offers tremendous insight into important areas of growth for organizations as they daily enact group structures.

Discussion of the Claims of the Research Study

This research follows within a research agenda seeking to better understand what humility actually is. Over the last decade and a half, the process of re-establishing the definition of humility has made great strides in moving away from the mentality of the downtrodden, lacking, ‘wimp’ to the pattern held by individuals (and now – groups) that exhibit a low self-focus, an acknowledgement of personal limitations, openness to the ideas of others, the ability to keep one’s accomplishments and abilities in the proper perspective, and an appreciation of the value of all things (see research by  Julie Tangney at George Mason University).

This research established that the presence of PGH was a vital foundation for virtuous behaviors. At the outset of this study, it was posited in that humility has the potential to re-orient individuals, groups, organizations, and even societies. Within the studies in this research, it was established that the presence of humility within a group is strongly related to the orientation of helping others. This fits well with previous findings, in which individuals exemplifying humility have a low self-focus, an appreciation of the strengths of others, and a desire to learn. In an ever-changing world, that is continually finding opportunities for the use of groups, the understanding that groups can have significant impact both internally and externally through the enactment of group humility, leads to the possibility that an encouragement of real and substantive good can be engaged in organizations and communities.

Organizations can also benefit significantly from the new understanding of the effects of humility on learning, particularly that of a group. As learning has become a vital financial (as well as operational) concern in organizations, it is of increasing importance for organizational leaders to better understand how to encourage the growth and learning of groups and their members. While arrogant individuals and those expressing low-humility are unlikely to engage in, and enact new learnings, individuals and groups that express humility are more likely to seek out new learnings, as they first recognize that they are not perfect. In Study II the data showed that there was a strong, positive relationship between PGH and a Team-Learning Orientation. The importance of humility within individuals and groups (as the connection to team-learning orientation should note) may prove to be valuable in finding an increase in the transfer of training rates, and thus the financial allocation for training within organizations.

Finally, this study provides great hope for how humility and collective efficacy in tandem can establish more accurate goal-setting and performance expectations. Organizations stand to be in much better position, fiscally, purely through the means of better understanding their own competencies and capabilities. In this research it was established that there is a strong, positive relationship between PGH and Collective Efficacy. With this connection at the forefront, the presence of group humility and the correlate, a higher level of collective efficacy, should present an opportunity for establishing proper, reachable standards, thus helping prevent a great deal of waste, over-inflated goals, and the potential for new areas of growth.

Opportunities for Organizations

These findings have the potential to positively impact the culture and bottom line of any organization through the implementation of some, or all of the following methods:

1)      Beginning with upper leadership, model humility through:

  1. A demonstrated willingness to learn, as well as the acknowledging the specialized knowledge that others bring to the table.
  2. Maintaining a proper placement of themselves (not overly important or overly unimportant, not taking credit for what others have done, etc.)
  3. Show care and concern for other group/organization members through checking in at appropriate junctures and assessing what is needed for others to thrive.
  4. Develop an open and honest feedback circle which allows for an understanding of what one does well and needs to improve on.

2)      Demonstrate the importance of organizational values through:

  1. Display values in public places.
  2. Enactment of feedback processes for recognizing extraordinary examples.
  3. Consistent reminder and encouragement of these values.

It is important that while encouraging and researching the value and importance of humility within groups and organizations, that humility doesn’t become ‘cheapened’ or ‘manufactured’. When individuals and groups truly enact the behaviors that undergird humility, growth most certainly will take place. However, when false modesty is implemented and modeled, little value will be found.

True humility, as enacted within groups should assist the development of an uplifting organizational climate. With the recasting of the humility construct and the substantiation of humility as leading to care and development of others, humility solidifies its value in the organization. As such, it is imperative that organizations, awake to the blessings found in this humble perspective. Given that almost every organization utilizes groups for some aspect or function, it should become imperative for organizations of all stripes to seek for better understanding about how group humility functions, how it can be encouraged, and what that means for recruitment, leadership, and training.

If you would like to learn more about this research and the Perception of Group Humility scale, please leave a comment below.

Speaking up.

Yesterday, I wrote in this space about the importance of not allowing a negative lens shape your view of others. In that post, I mentioned how it is our own thinking about others that often leads to conflict, rather than actual actions by that person. Perceptions, not reality. I believe that is very important for individuals to understand and live out. Today, though I want to look at the other hand of the conflict quarter and recognize its positive attributes.

Now, things can be categorized in two ways with this subject. The first is shown in the work of great activists like Dietrich Bonhoeffer have exposed that not standing up to speak against wrong, is evil – “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” This must be understood and embodied. Don’t say yes, by saying nothing and standing by. Sometimes confrontation is the only way to go – speak out against injustice and harm to others, don’t just stand by and let others be taken advantage of, and care for others in just the same way you would care for yourself.

The other way, is when people play the “yes man” role. This is the person who either is trying to get close to a boss or other person of influence and they feel the only real thing they can do is stroke the ego of that individual. We have all been around them before, right? One of the most telling caricatures of this archetype is Lefou in the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast. In that movie, Lefou plays the yes man (also sometimes known as a hype man) to Gaston the bully of the town. Gaston, as depicted in this movie, is quite full of himself and Lefou only serves to exacerbate that issue. He encourages the buffoonery and arrogance of his friend by failing to disagree or expose what are certainly ideas that can bring harm or are just plain stupid (seriously we would never had the terrible idea of kill the beast if at some point in time Lefou just told Gaston that he shouldn’t do something).

If you are connected to a person that only wants you around to confirm their ideas, opinions, and actions you need to find new connections. That is not healthy for you and it is not healthy for them. Don’t enable a person by letting them feast on their ego. You are worth far more as an individual when you learn to think for yourself and speak up based upon what you know (an aside on this, don’t let this be your license to act like you know everything – that is another BAD idea).

Have core values, stand for something, study what comes before you, and speak truthfully. Conflict may come, but it won’t likely be about personality (when you look at the good in others), but it will be based on ideas, processes, and evidence – discussion on these topics is positive as it causes each one of us to be improved. (Just don’t be this guy or the guy in this comic).Image