Love and Basketball: A Leadership Game Plan From Coach K
Posted: June 17th, 2015
This April when Grayson Allen lumbered across the court in the NCAA championship game to save a loose ball, the Blue Devil freshman roared with enough emotion to raise the hair on every head in the packed stadium. But most affected were a 68-year-old coach and seven other young men in blue, who fought off the struggles seen earlier in the game and swept past Wisconsin to win 68 to 63.
That was the fifth NCAA title for Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who’s also coached two teams to Olympic gold medals. He described that moment to a business audience at the Salesforce Connections conference in New York City on Tuesday. With that experience in mind, Coach K recommended some emotive strategies for fostering a championship team that works just as well off-court.
Cultivate an ownership mentality.
The 40-year coaching veteran doesn’t have any rules in the locker room. Instead, he has standards in which coaches and players alike take ownership. When coaching the Dream Team for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the players helped him form their own list. Adding to Coach K’s two original standards (looking each other in the eye and always telling the truth), players like Jason Kidd and Kobe Bryant contributed ideas like never being late or having a bad practice; LeBron James suggested, “No excuses.”
Involving teammates in forming an agreed-upon list gives them more ownership in the project and a personal commitment to their own performance. Rather than being dictated to, “All good people want to be part of something great,” Coach K says, “and they want to feel appreciated when they are.”
Embrace your team’s feelings.
The secret to connecting teammates, says Coach K, is not just about seeing and listening. Feeling important, recognized, and heard keeps teams alive and retains talent in well-run organizations. If you can’t get to the heart of every team member, partnerships won’t be as effective.
Get close to the players on your team and encourage them to not hide their emotions from you. But in turn, you have to honor their vulnerability–make sure they feel understood and appreciated, and encourage others on the team to step up and make everyone feel respected.
Part of that respect is trusting teammates, especially standout players, to call the shots sometimes. However, Coach K says it’s vital to know your team well enough to pull someone out immediately when they exhibit destructive behavior. He warns against letting things slide and instead, looking your player in the eye and saying “What the hell’s wrong with you?”
It may sound harsh, but he says that’s just being real. “And if your team is real then it’s also going to be tough.”
Never stop innovating.
Coach K admits that before the 2014 season, things on the operations side at Duke Men’s Basketball were a little rusty. Procedures were so ingrained they hadn’t evolved with changing personnel and standards. He decided it was time to refresh and “get back to our personality.”
So he called the staff together and changed a lot of processes and procedures. Before the championship game he called the staff together and told them that when the team won the title, it will be in large part thanks to the behind-the-scenes work done by people who will never be on TV. That kind of acknowledgement of your team’s efforts will only serve to strengthen your bond.