Lessons from Coach K

Say what you want about the Duke team, the school, or the coach, but it’s hard to argue against Coach K being one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game. Year in and year out, his teams are consistently competitive nationally. There are many things we can learn from the success of Coach K, but I just want to point out a few:

He’s adaptable. Coach K coaches his team to accentuate the strengths of his players. Some teams have been able to outscore everyone else, while other teams keep everyone from scoring. From the USA Olympic team to championship Duke teams, Coach K adjusts to bring out the best in his team. He doesn’t force players to fit his system. He adapts his system to help his team have a high level of success. Good leaders understand that they have to adjust systems according to the people around them, not adjust people to systems.

He’s a teacher, not a dictator. Some coaches think that their title gives them opportunity to yell and throw things all of the time. Look at the coaches of championship NCAA basketball teams. How often do angry coaches win? Coach K may get angry in some situations, but his typical demeanor is calm and controlled. He focuses on developing the players, not on controlling them. Effective leaders are intentional on teaching and developing others, not controlling them to get the desired outcome.

He’s respected by many. His success in the college game has created respect for him among the collegiate ranks, but it goes further than that. The NBA is a completely different style than the college game. When Coach K was asked to be the coach for the USA Olympic team, the NBA players on that team could have ignored him because he wasn’t an NBA coach. They could have written him off because of his lack of success in their league. Instead, they listened to him because he was good at his job. His knowledge and wisdom of the game was greater than any perceived lack of success. Ultimately they submitted themselves to his leadership and became gold medal winners. Effective leaders are good at what they do, and that competence creates respect from other people. When a leader is competent and confident, the followers will submit themselves to the direction of the leader. People like to be with someone who is good at what they do.

There are many other facets of effective leadership that can be drawn from not only Coach K, but any successful coach. The concepts of good leadership are applicable far beyond the athletic playing field. Continue to look all around to learn from others and grow as a leader.

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