Duke’s Coach K’s Secret to Leadership Success

In the spirit of March Madness and taking the Easter holiday off from writing a new post, enjoy this article originally written in November 2011. It’s about Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski and the role trust plays in his success as a leader. Coach K has since amassed nearly 1,000 wins in his career and tomorrow night will play for a chance to win his fifth national title.

November, 2011

“In leadership, there are no words more important than trust.
In any organization, trust must be developed among every member of the team if success is going to be achieved.”
Leading With The Heart ~ Mike Krzyzewski

This past Tuesday Mike Krzyzewski became the winningest coach in Division I college basketball history when Duke defeated Michigan State 74-69. This was Coach K’s 903rd victory in a 35 year career that has included four national titles, 11 Final Four appearances, and just four losing seasons.

In a post-game interview with ESPN’s Rece Davis, Coach K was asked the following question: “What’s the single most important characteristic for a coach to have to achieve the things you’ve achieved?”

Mike Krzyzewski’s answer is simple, yet profound, and is one that leaders everywhere should take to heart if they want to maximize their leadership influence. Here’s what he said:

“I think you have to be trustworthy. You have to take the time to develop a relationship that’s so strong with each individual player, and hopefully with the team, that they will trust you. They let you in, and if they let you in, you can teach. If they don’t let you in, you’re never going to get there.”

When Coach K references his players “letting him in,” he points to the heart. It’s not just a casual, conversational gesture. He’s making a specific point about tapping into his players’ heart – the emotional core of who they are as a person. Coach K intentionally focuses on developing a trusting relationship with each of his players because he knows without that absolute level of trust, he won’t be able to teach them how to transform their potential into performance.

The same principle applies to leaders in any organization. In order to achieve success, you have to take the time to establish meaningful, trust-based relationships with your team members. If your people don’t trust you, they won’t be receptive to your coaching on ways they can improve their performance. If your team can’t trust that you’ll have their back when they fail, they won’t take the necessary risks needed to move your business forward.

Conversely, trust enables your team to confront the brutal facts of their performance and find ways to get better. Trust allows individuals to set aside their personal ego for the betterment of the team and commit wholeheartedly to pursuing a common goal. Trust is what allows leaders to tap into the hearts and souls of their team members and achieve greater levels of success together than they could ever reach individually.

Beyond the career milestones, and he’s had plenty, leading with trust is Mike Krzyzewski’s most enduring legacy. In that regard, we should all try to be like Mike.

7 Comments on “Duke’s Coach K’s Secret to Leadership Success

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  6. This is a great story and testimony about Coach Mike K. I saw the final game in which Duke won\
    over Michigan who I believe had just beaten U. of Kentucky who was supposed to be the best
    team this year. There were two players Coach K. had recruited and trained to work and play
    with the rest of the team. I don’t recall their names but they had played together since grade
    school and were best friends, like twin brothers. One was only 6:1 (short in basketball today)
    and the other was 6:8 or 9. The short one was the floor general and always called the shots
    for each play when he brought the ball down the court. His favorite play was to get the ball
    into his 6:8 friend who could not be stopped. If that didn’t happen then the short guy would
    get open and hit a 3 or drive in and take a jump shot or go all the way to the basket. They
    could not be stopped. I will find their names and send them to you & the utube final game.

    This is a great site and this story was very inspirational. In fact, I was just thinking about
    doing a research on Mike K. and the secret to his success and now your web site did it
    for me. Thanks Tom Clute. You must come from a long line of winners. mfc.
    I will share this site with all my readers….

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