Legendary Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski told an audience of business executives how he builds winning teams. Here, from a panel discussion at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles Monday, are a few of his pointers.
- Leadership isn’t singular. No one leads alone, Krzyzewski says. When he was building the team that won gold at the Beijing Olympics, he relied on Lebron James, Jason Kidd and Kobe Bryant as the team’s “internal leaders.” They had tremendous sway on the rest of the team. “If they said it, it’s pretty much going to go,” he says.
- Soaring egos need a higher purpose. Talented players often have outsized egos. It’s not Krzyzewski’s style to break them down, but he has to keep ego from blocking improvement. To get them working as a team, Krzyzewski first meets with each player individually, lays out what he expects from him and instills in each a common purpose. Fellow panelist Pete Carroll, head football coach at the University of Southern California, said it best: No matter how huge the ego is, a star player needs to feel he is part of something bigger than himself. “You have to look every one of them in the eye, respect that they’re unique and figure out where they’re coming from,” Carroll said. “You have to give of yourself to figure them out.”
- Great players learn best from each other. When Krzyzewski met with Lebron James before training for the Olympics began, James told him that he wanted to learn the secret of Jason Kidd’s excellent passing, and how Kobe Bryant, whom he considered the best player in the sport, prepared off court. James forged close relationships with both men and has become a better player because of it, Krzyzewski says. The trick for the coach, he said, is to create an environment in which the players learn from each other without having to expose vulnerabilities. “The guys who are really good in our sport don’t want to show weakness,” he said.
- Love them after they leave you. College players, like rising young executives, will move on. Fulfill your commitment to them by maintaining your ties, Krzyzewski advises. His players have gone on to play in the NBA, to coach at influential colleges or to new endeavors. “We maintain a relationship of being a friend and part of their family for the rest of their lives,” he says. It’s a form of networking that he finds particularly rewarding. He suggests looking for ways to make it easy for former protégés to ask for help without losing face.