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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Positive Leadership: Leadership Lessons from Coach K

Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski now has most NCAA career victories (903). Krzyzewski has been called “the modern-day John Wooden” by Louisville coach Rick Pitino and “a coach’s coach … a guy I think every coach in America looks to and respects,” by Kansas coach Bill Self. He has led the Blue Devils to 11 Final Four appearances and four national titles. In this extract from an interview with Jerry Kavanagh for Athlon Sports, Krzyzewski showed an appreciation for literature in speaking about his coaching style and leadership.

'In the book Absinthe and Flamethrowers, the author, William Gurstelle, writes that managers who take the greatest risks are the most successful. Do you agree with that?

I think you have to be careful when you say that. Somebody might think that to be a leader or a manager, “I need to take a lot of risks, or else I’m not good.” I think you can’t be afraid to do what’s necessary. Some people would equate that to taking a risk because it goes against the grain or it’s not something that is normally done. But my feeling is that a leader has to take the course of action that’s necessary to produce a positive result after doing an analysis and preparing himself to take a look at that situation. The world might call that a risk; a leader would call that the appropriate action that needed to be taken. I think when you just take that one statement (by Gurstelle), you can make a mistake by saying, “I didn’t take a risk today. I better take one.” I think you go boldly in the direction that’s necessary and in the direction that you’re prepared to go in.

You often talk about leadership. Napoleon defined a leader as “a dealer in hope.” I read where you said, “Leadership can be lonely.” Can you explain that?

Well, leadership is lonely because you don’t discuss everything. Part of it is that in your moments of doubt or in your moments of being nervous or wondering if this is the right thing that you’re doing, you never want to show weakness to your group. And you don’t share that because it’s not the main feeling you have, but because you’re a human being these feelings hit you. Leadership can be very lonely, but there’s a certain amount of time that you have to be by yourself, it has to be yours as you’re looking into it, before you present something to your group. I think that’s a price that you pay.

Some of the statements you have made have an application beyond basketball. For example, “Fear can change you.” What do you mean by that?

Some people are afraid of fear, so they avoid it. They don’t try to do anything. They’re very cautious. And when you get into new situations, there’s an element of fear that can excite you. It can freeze you or stop you from doing something, because it’s new. It can be exciting, but there’s still some fear involved. And I don’t think that you have to face fear. You know, part of being courageous is facing fear and doing what you’re supposed to do. People have different fears — fear of speaking, fear of heights, a bunch of fears — and when you face those fears, you can turn them into your strengths. That’s how you evolve as a person and how a group evolves as a team.'