Leadership Lessons From Coach K

I recently read about an interview on leadership lessons that Head Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski completed with the Dean of Duke University’s business school, Bill Boulding. I believe it offers some great lessons for each of us, so I am passing its highlights along to you in this blog. After winning five national championships in his 40 years at Duke, Coach K probably can provide us with some excellent guidelines.

Coach K has a solid reputation for strong leadership, but he added that he also believes in using a degree of flexibility. As he stated in the interview, “You have to adapt to the current culture of the business you’re in.” He then continued by offering these pointers:

  • Maintain intensity by doing what you love – This is a crucial lesson for all of us. He goes on to add, “I don’t know how you ever burn out doing what you love. I think it’s impossible. In fact, your fire grows if you’re doing it for that, because you learn more about what you love and you know there’s even more to learn.” Do you love what you are doing? If not, is it time for a change? Not to be negative, but life is too short to be unhappy about something that you spend half of your waking hours on…
  • Hire for the culture you want – Coach K talks about former players that he has hired as assistant coaches. “I have to have seen something in them, that they could coach. Be careful about who you hire as staff. Never hire just because of friendship, or some kind of perceived loyalty because someone’s your friend. You can hire a friend who’s qualified, but surround yourself with people that will complement the strengths and weaknesses you have.” He added that you then need to give them a lot of freedom by empowering them at every level.
  • Have standards, not rules – He stated, “I understand rules up to a point, but standards are really rules that you own. The thing I hate the most about rules is that they’re not yours. They’re imposed upon you, and there’s not much latitude. As a leader, you’ve got to be careful not to rule yourself into a box where you don’t have the flexibility to lead. That doesn’t mean don’t have rules, but rules should not take the place of sound judgement.”
  • Create ownership – While coaching the U.S. Men’s Olympic Team, made up of primarily star professional players, he encouraged them to bring their egos, but bring them all under one umbrella. This, he added, is what builds “ownership” in a project. “Be competitive with the excellence you’re trying to achieve.”

If you would like to learn more about similar topics and the tactics our Clients have used to improve their outcomes, as well as what applications of these lessons you can make in your business, please join us for our next Success Strategies Mastermind Group series of quarterly workshops in July 2019. They are designed to teach more people the Finance & Strategy Concepts that I offer business people. Signups have begun, giving you the opportunity to learn these same concepts and meet with other producers who have overcome some of the same challenges you may be facing. Check them out at:


This entire thinking process is absolutely critical today, and if you need assistance, please e-mail me at john@success-strategies.com. I’m always open for a follow-up call and wish you the best of success!