Coach Gregg Popovich has won his third Coach of the Year award.  This comes  only one year after his Spurs’ devastating loss to the Miami Heat in the MBA finals. Despite the loss, he led his team to a league best 62-20 record, which has created an advantage in the play off.

How did Coach Popovich achieve such success after not only facing the defeat but at the same time losing his two long-time assistants to head coaching jobs and dealing  with nagging  team injuries?

What did he do to get his team back on the court with the will and ability to win? His secret of success is the courage to look around—and back. In the old Beatles song Yesterday, Paul McCartney sings “There’s a shadow hanging over me.”  Moving on means turning and facing that shadow.

I once witnessed a team leader who when confronted by executive management about unacceptable performance deflected responsibility with the comment “Let’s not look back …”  His tactic worked for a while.  Unfortunately improvement did not follow, and the past caught up with him.

Of course it’s important to look to the future and not get stuck in the past or play a blaming game.  But that is a far cry from not being willing to take a hard look  and accepting  responsibility.  Coach Popovich’s magic is his ability to understand the past to help chart the future.

Unlike the team leader, Popovich said,  “We decided that we needed to just face our own record right off the bat at the beginning of the season and get it out of the way.  Don’t blame it on the basketball gods or bad fortune or anything like that.”  He  faced what  fell apart  and  then put the pieces back together.

Whether the “defeat” you face is a championship, a missed quarter,  a critical deal in the pipeline that did not close,  or the loss of a high performing/valued team member, whether you are the sales leader or a member of the sales  or service team; before you look to the next step take the time to take a hard look back.  Facing yesterday  head on is the first step. It is about accepting personal responsibility.  We can’t change what happened but we can control how we respond and what we  make of it.  The key is to understand the hard experience and not bury it but instead using it to create something good.

Questions to ask yourself: What is,  as Coach Popovich calls it,   the elephant in the room?  How am I going to acknowledge it? To whom? How will I respond to it? What have I learned from it? What will I do?

Not every defeat turns  into success but facing yesterday’s shadow is the first step to a brighter future.