Coach K’s Legacy of Leadership and Learning

By Brent Bokhart, IPLI Mentor, Principal at Crawfordsville Middle School

This past weekend Duke Men’s Head Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) coached his last game in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The hype buildup reached unprecedented levels the week leading up to the game on March 5th, 2022. The game brought ESPN’s college game day show to Durham, NC, which a majority of the program featured Coach K; it got average ticket prices of over $5,000 for one ticket, a week’s worth of tributes to Coach K leading up to the game, and among other celebrations for Coach K, 96 of his 208 players coached returned for the game on Saturday. Few leave an impact as large as this, so as Coach K’s career comes to a close during March Madness, it’s a great time to reflect on key leadership lessons that Coach K leaves us with to put in our leadership toolboxes.

“Choose Good People; Good People Will Make You Better”

Coach K discusses how he always made choices that surrounded him with good people. He discusses his time with leaders at West Point and now, for the last 42 years, the good people at Duke University. You can’t go it alone and be successful, so surround yourself with others that push you and your team.

“A Leader Has to Show Strength”

Coach K uses the iconic Christian Laettner shot against Kentucky to explain the importance of a leader’s strength. The first thing he told his team, who was down one point in the timeout with 2.1 seconds left, was “we are going to win,” and the rest is March Madness history! Deep down, there has to be doubt at that moment, but a leader needs to be strong, and team members act off a leader’s strength. Knowing when power needs to be shown for your team is essential to strong leadership.

“Make Everyday Like Your First Day”

Coach K discusses the need to stay hungry. When you lead a team, your team deserves the best from you, and if you aren’t hungry, you won’t be able to give your best. As you gain experience over the years, that experience gets layered into decision making and how you lead, but you have to stay hungry and motivated.

Communication of Your Team Standards and Expectations

The following bullet points are quotes of a few team standards Coach K uses with his teams.

  • “Look each other in the eye when speaking and listening.”
  • “Tell the truth and have each other’s backs.”
  • “Be enthusiastic and have great standards.”

We talk a lot about team norms in education, especially within our PLCs, and at times these can be underemphasized and can lack focus. Leaders need to remember to communicate and clarify what’s essential to their team and then live by those.

“Failure is Never a Destination”

Coach K discusses learning-depth, a loss, and a loss is a learning opportunity that leads to winning. If you aren’t losing at times, you aren’t growing, and you aren’t taking risks. One of the most dangerous things that can be said is: “well, this is what we’ve always done.” Leaders must be willing to take risks to continue to push limits and continue to grow as a team.

Source – The David Rubenstein Show: A Conversation With Duke’s Coach K