Mike Krzyzewski said, “When a leader takes responsibility for his own actions and mistakes, he not only sets a good example, he shows a healthy respect for people on his team.”
Krzyzewski, better known as Coach K, has been the men’s head basketball coach at Duke University in North Carolina since 1980. He has more wins than any other NCAA Division I basketball coach, male or female, and is second only to the legendary John Wooden of UCLA with five NCAA men’s Division I titles. Coach K has also won five Olympic gold medals and two FIBA World Cup championships with the American men’s basketball team.
Krzyzewski is clearly a brilliant basketball coach. His understanding of the intricacies of the game is extraordinary, as is his ability to adapt in the heat of competition. But it’s his leadership skill that has earned him universal respect.
Like all great leaders, Coach K is guided by solid principles. The number five is significant in basketball because each team has five players. When the thumb and four fingers come together, it makes a fist. Many basketball teams will use a fist as a visual when they call an offensive play in a noisy gymnasium, but a fist is also a symbol of human strength and unity. Thus, Krzyzewski has summarized his principles in five key points:
In order to be an effective leader, one needs to be able to clearly connect with others. In order to be an effective team member, one needs to be able to effectively convey and receive messages. Without communication, the greatest ideas are of little use.
Without trust, we have nothing. People won’t follow a leader unless there’s trust, but trust goes far beyond this. The leader needs to trust their team members, and the team members need to trust each other. When we know that others trust us, it gives us confidence. When we trust others, we don’t hesitate to give them responsibility.
A key element with trust, however, is that we don’t expect perfection. We all make mistakes, but we’re willing to put our confidence in people who are doing their best and are constantly striving to improve.
Because we care, we always put forth our best effort. We want to be our best selves and we want the best for the people around us.
Every person is responsible for the outcome of the entire group. There’s no individual shaming when things go wrong, and we don’t take personal credit when our team performs well. At the same time, each individual is essential for the success of the whole. Team defence in basketball is a beautiful example of collective responsibility. In order to keep the opponent from scoring, everyone has to work together.
We take pride in our own accomplishments. But even more, we take pride in the accomplishments of the group and its members. We celebrate not only the championships but also the smaller wins, all of which lead to greatness.
The beautiful thing about sports is that they provide a proving ground for philosophies of life. Anyone can win or lose a game, but it takes a real leader to turn an apparent failure into a valuable learning experience.
We may not be active in sports, but we all need to be able to work effectively with others. As such, we’re all leaders.
As Coach K says, “I don’t look at myself as a basketball coach. I look at myself as a leader who happens to coach basketball.”
Troy Media columnist Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.
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