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Coach K Gets Standing Ovation

By Lorrie Griffith/editor

FMI Future Connect 2011

Coach Mike Krzyzewski drew a large 8 a.m. crowd at FMI Future Connect in Dallas, attendees lining up even earlier than that to get a good seat for his presentation on teamwork and leadership.

The former West Point cadet who is men’s basketball coach at Duke University as well as coach of Team USA, the Olympic basketball team, has an incredible track record for winning and has led a number of Duke teams to NCAA basketball championships and Team USA to gold medals.

A leader, he explained, gets a group of people to act together as one–and win. One of the keys to forming a winning team is for each member to feel a sense of ownership in the team, to understand that what they do is integral to the team’s success. He said he does not like to use the word “delegate” because it somehow conveys that the job he is giving them is somehow not as important as the jobs he is keeping for himself. So instead he asks them to handle a task so that he can do his own tasks better, for the good of the whole team.

A good leader knows his team, Coach K said, and that’s a tall order since the lives of those on the team can change every day. The leader needs to know what team members are going through in their lives, good and bad, in order to lead them well and effectively.

Every member of the team is important, bottom to top. The coach cited a time when he was shown respect by basketball superstar Michael Jordan when the coach was an assistant for Team USA. Though Jordan could have ordered the coach around because he was such a superstar, and the coach would have accepted it, Jordan asked the coach for 30 minutes of his time to work on his offense then thanked him for his time when the session was over. Showing respect and saying “please” and “thank you” go a long way towards making a strong team, he said. And that holds true in every arena of life, he added.

Are two better than one? the coach once asked a player. Not sure how to respond because Coach K was always posing riddles, the player said yes. The right answer? Two are better than one only if two can act as one.

On a basketball team, five have to act as one in order to win.

The coach then held up his hand, representing the five members of a basketball team and five important characteristics of a good team:

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  • Communication
  • Trust
  • Care
  • Collective Responsibility
  • Pride

When Team USA lost to Greece during Coach K’s first time as head coach, there was a lot of speculation about why they had lost the game and why a college basketball coach had been chosen to coach the NBA players on Team USA.

To get the team back on track after the unexpected defeat, a team meeting was held to outline the standards they would adhere to. Look each other in the eye and tell the truth were two the coach insisted on. Then the players began to chime in: Be on time; respect your opponent; Never have a bad practice; Always step forward together—have each other’s back; do the fundamentals right; and no excuses.

The final standard was pride: We’re playing for the best country in the world, for the best people in the world.

The next time, the team won the gold medal.

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