Any true basketball fan has to appreciate the beauty of the San Antonio Spurs. Not only are the Spurs one of the winningest and most profitable teams in pro sports, they've managed to do it with unrivaled class and professionalism.
It's difficult to define what exactly makes up "Spurs Culture," but that hasn't stopped other teams from trying to copy it. (It's no secret that a great number of former Spurs players, coaches, and executives now have positions of responsibility in teams around the league.)
But Tony Parker just gave us a glimpse into what helped make "Spurs Culture" so great.
Having joined the Spurs at the tender age of 19, Parker spent 17 years as the Spurs' floor general, helping lead the team to four NBA championships during his tenure. He recently left the organization to join the Charlotte Hornets, and published an open letter to San Antonio to say goodbye (via The Player's Tribune).
In his letter, Parker gave special credit to his former teammate and future NBA hall-of-famer, Tim Duncan.
"Of course, the biggest reason why Spurs Culture exists ... this is pretty simple, isn't it?" Parker writes. "We had one of the best players of all time, for 19 seasons, in Tim ... I don't think people realize how much of our team's entire culture could really be brought back to just Tim being Tim."
Parker then summed up Tim Duncan's greatest contribution in ten powerful words:
"Timmy was the most coachable great player of all time."
Parker goes on to explain how people would always ask why Spurs players were so coachable, how coaches were always able to squeeze the best results possible from any player. Few could understand how players would come to the Spurs and seem to "magically get better" or suddenly have a better work ethic, or get rid of a major flaw that was holding them back.
The answer, according to Parker, had a lot to do with Tim Duncan.
"That was always our secret weapon, to me: You see this all-world player, this All-NBA First Team, MVP of the Finals, about to be MVP of the league guy, and here he is in practice, willing to be coached like he's fighting for a spot on the team. It was unreal. And if you think that's too passive for a star player to be? Well, then you're not thinking it through on Tim's level. Because Tim knew the truth: which was that to let himself be coached in this way, you know ... that's true charisma, and that's true swagger. It's like he was challenging everyone else in our gym: The best player in the entire league is willing to put his ego aside for the good of this team--are you?"
"And that was the deal, you know? Guys would come in, take a look around, and eventually they would do as Tim does. That was Spurs Culture."
What you can learn from Tim Duncan
In my new book, EQ Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence, I explain the extraordinary value of being coachable.
The ability to process feedback effectively is vital because it allows you to expand your horizons and learn from others' experiences. That's true regardless of your age or gender, and it applies across roles--partner or parent, from CEO to entry- level employee.
The thing is, few of us respond to feedback the way Tim Duncan does--and it's easy to understand why.
When it comes to your work, you've invested blood, sweat, and sometimes tears. So, it's natural to feel a degree of pain when others devalue that effort. Added is the fact that your personal beliefs, convictions, and values make up so much of your identity.
But here's the thing: nobody's right all the time. You need others to expose your blind spots, to point out what you're missing, because that's how you improve.
Of course, I'm not excusing criticism that's hurtful or thoughtless. If you need to deliver negative feedback, doing so with respect and tact is not only the kind thing to do, it will get you better results. But if you're on the receiving end of criticism, you don't have that luxury. That feedback is like a freshly mined diamond: it may not look pretty, but it has great potential for value. Now it's time to cut and polish, learn, and grow.
But how can you keep your emotions from getting in the way?
The key is to train yourself to view criticism not as a personal attack, but instead as a learning opportunity.
Whenever you receive negative feedback, focus on answering two questions:
- Putting my personal feelings aside, what can I learn from this perspective?
- How can I use this feedback to help me improve?
Of course, building an organizational culture where your top performers are open to feedback is not easy. It requires those top performers to swallow their pride and develop humility. You need to build trust with them, and prove that you're looking out for their best interests, as well as the interests of your team or organization.
And it all starts with you setting the example.
Because the need for feedback is why even the most talented athletes in the world need a coach. It's how Tim Duncan became Tim Duncan, how Tony Parker became Tony Parker--and how the Spurs manage to keep winning, year in, year out.
So when someone's willing to share their thoughts, consider it a gift. Process it. Ponder it. Accept it. Learn from it. Whether it's negative or positive, don't let it define you. Take what you can and move on.
If you can take the lead in this, you'll find that others will follow. That's how you build a true culture of excellence.
If you don't believe me, just ask Tony Parker--and the San Antonio Spurs.