Though it is a sport I never really enjoyed playing and only watch in March, I see the goodness in any team sport. In honor of the fact that the NBA season kicked off last night, I dusted off the only basketball related book I own, “Leading with the Heart” by Coach K. For those of you who are not familiar, Coach K is Coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke Basketball lore (and a West Point graduate). Using his experiences as a basketball coach, in his book he makes many great points about leadership in general. Most are not new to those of us who study leadership and management, but he does a good job of illustrating the importance of deliberately creating a desirable culture in a locker room, wardroom, or living room. Though I highly recommend this book to anyone who appreciates sports as an analogy to the workplace, the lessons that struck me most given my role as a leader include:

  • It’s important to recruit great individuals who are willing to be a part of a team – We should reach out to juniors, peers, and seniors whom we would like to make part of our team. By each of us embracing our role as recruiter, we’ll posture our team for greater success.
  • Use plural pronouns vice singular ones (none more powerful than we) – It’s important to find ways to lead through teamwork and collaboration. We are a community of leaders. Using the first person singular “I” is inconsistent with the collaborative philosophy we share and unintentionally compartments our team.
  • All assistant coaches should have the vision of being a head coach – We need to encourage our peers and subordinates to seek out growth opportunities. I am proud of the high number of individuals on our team who want to grow, desire to contribute in meaningful ways, and are not overly focused merely on their promotability. At the same time, I am disappointed in the relatively few who do not share the aforementioned desires. Our coaches (seniors) must continue to focus on the development of our respective assistant coaches (proteges) and help them grow into and earn head coaching positions (i.e. be our reliefs), while helping the others to pursue interests outside of our team. One of the ways coaches can be measured is by looking at their coaching tree (i.e. the number of assistant coaches who went on to other positions of influence). Though Coach K’s Tree is not as full of branches as others, it is definitely impressive. What does your coaching tree look like? Are you deliberately building branches? Are you purposefully creating a relationship with a senior from whom you’d like to grow your branch?
  • Failure is part of success – We need to reward risk takers and recognize the failures that come with risk-taking as lessons learned. The only way we grow is to extend beyond our comfort zone and help others to do the same.

Please give some thought to the culture each of us is promoting (intentionally or otherwise) within our work center, command, or other places of business. We each need to do our part to make our team one of character, collaboration, and competence.

I am not a basketball fan, but am a fan of great leaders and for that reason alone, Go Duke!

  • Who are you recruiting to your team?
  • What will your coaching tree look like years from now?
  • How willing are you to publicly embrace the learning power of failure?