Real Life Leading #6: Coach K

Real Life Leading #6: Coach K

Leading With the Heart: Successful Strategies for Basketball, Business, and Life

by Mike Krzyzewski, with Donald T. Phillips

     Full disclosure: I’m a HUGE Duke basketball and Coach K fan, so I’m extremely excited about reviewing this book for everyone. If you’re a basketball fan who is also a leader, then this book is an absolute must-read. If you’re not a basketball fan, it is still a must-read simply because of the amazing wisdom and practical insights that are inside. For those of you who aren’t as familiar with Coach K’s body of work, let me give you a brief run-down, so that you have a better understanding of how amazing he is (and therefore how much this book is worth your time).

Coach K, as he is known, has an incredible professional resume, so I’ll keep it short. He went to West Point and played basketball there before spending five years as an officer in the US Army. Upon his graduation from West Point, he married his wife Mickie. He spent one year as an assistant at Indiana before coaching at West Point and then going to coach at Duke University.

As a head coach (a few years at Army, and 30+ seasons at Duke), Coach K has won over 1,000 basketball games. He is in the college basketball Hall of Fame already, though he is still coaching. He has won 5 national championships, over a dozen conference championships, and he is the all-time winningest coach in men’s college basketball history. He has also taken the USA basketball team to three straight Olympic gold medal victories, while still being the head coach at Duke. And more important than any of those things, he is still married to his wife Mickie, and they have three daughters and nine grandchildren.

Ok, now that we’ve established Coach K as a credible leadership authority both in his personal and his professional life, let’s dive into this excellent book! Leading With the Heart is divided into four sections, each of which has a different focus. At the core of each of these sections is Coach K’s philosophy that he learned both at home growing up and as a cadet at West Point: character is the core of all good leadership. This should sound familiar to my readers, since this is the main theme of The West Point Way of Leadership which was reviewed some weeks ago (for those of you who missed it, you can find that blog post here:

This book is packed full with leadership guidance, entertaining basketball stories, and practical/easily applicable principles. At the beginning of each section is a quote that sums it up, and at the end of each chapter is a whole page of “Coach K’s Tips.” If all you did was read the tips at the end of each chapter, you’d learn a ton (though you’d miss out on the great basketball stories and other relevant information). What I’ll be doing here is giving you a brief sketch of the various chapters and sections, followed up by a quote or two from Coach K that drives home a main point, theme, or idea. Enjoy!

Part I: Preseason

This first part of the book focuses on organization, team-building, the importance of discipline, and also dynamic leadership. Coach K talks about how important it is for leaders to get to know their charges personally and well, in order to know how to best motivate them. “My goal in preseason is to get to know my players and what they can do. My total focus is finding out who we are and developing a personality on our team.” (pg. 1) This is crucial to any family, business, or athletic team: knowing who you are is a large part of knowing how you will be most likely to succeed.

Chapter 1 - Getting Organized: time management, academics, rules, support system, a handshake deal.

“Too many rules get in the way of leadership. They just put you in a box...People set rules to keep from making decisions.” (pg. 1)

Chapter 2 - Building Your Team: talent, trusting relationships, a winning attitude, finding the heart.

“Leaders have to search for the heart on a team, because the person who has it can bring out the best in everybody else.” (pg. 19)

Chapter 3 - Establishing Discipline: respect for authority, honesty and integrity, personal responsibility, discipline refined.

“Discipline is doing what you are supposed to do in the best possible manner at the time you are supposed to do it. And that’s not such a bad thing.” (pg. 35)

Chapter 4 - Dynamic Leadership: define your own success, planning and preparation, shared goals, every season is a journey.

“Whatever a leader does now sets up what he does later. And there’s always a later.” (pg. 51)

Part II: Regular Season

In this section, Coach K discusses teamwork, training and development, turning negatives into positives, and game day. Here he talks about all of the everyday themes that must be addressed in order to have a successful season. “There are five fundamental qualities that make every team great: communication, trust, collective responsibility, caring, and pride. I like to think of each as a separate finger on the fist. Any one individually is important. But all of them together are unbeatable.” (pg. 65)

Chapter 5 - Teamwork: The fist--communication, trust, collective responsibility, caring, pride.

“You develop a team to achieve what one person cannot accomplish alone. All of us alone are weaker by far than if all of us are together.” (pg. 67)

Chapter 6 - Training and Development: you hear, you forget; you see, you remember; you do, you understand, seeing themselves through your eyes, plan for nuances, creativity and innovation.

“It’s not what I know, it’s what they do on the court that really matters.” (pg. 85)

Chapter 7 - Turn Negatives Into Positives: Pay attention to detail, think about winning, the courage to lead.

“Sometimes adversity can work in your favor. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself and using it as an excuse, accept the situation and try to make the most of it. That’s how a team develops resilience and character.” (pg. 103)

Chapter 8 - Game Day: a game of adjustments, coach by feel, all aboard the train.

“I coach by feel. I follow my heart.” (pg. 117)

Part III: Postseason

In this section Coach K gets into how to approach the task of finishing well even though fatigue and crises, and how important it is to stay focused on the important things. “Like the springtime, our team is beginning anew. This is the time of year when we not only must be playing our best basketball, but when we should be our most enthusiastic about playing.” (pg. 133)

Chapter 9 - Refresh and Renew: March Madness, we’re 0-0, media and public relations, believe but don’t assume.

“One of the worse things anybody can do is assume. If people have really got it together, they never assume anything. They believe, they work hard, and they prepare--but they don’t assume.” (pg. 135)

Chapter 10 - Handling a Crisis: truth and trusting relationships, have fun, show the face your team needs to see, trying to get to heaven.

“A crisis can be a momentous time for a team to grow--if a leader handles it properly.” (pg. 149)

“I think luck favors teams who trust one another.” (pg. 149)

Chapter 11 - Focus on the Task at Hand: the Final Four, winning the moment, handling success, next game.

“A leader’s responsibility to his team is paramount. It overshadows even his personal feelings at any given time” (pg. 167)

Chapter 12 - Celebrate Tradition: a part of something bigger, binding the past to the present, the Sixth Man.

“People want to be on a team. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves.” (pg. 185)

“We try to create a legacy that binds the past to the present.” (pg. 185)

Part IV: All-Season

In this fourth and final section, Coach K talks about the things that matter far beyond the basketball court or the locker room: character, life, friendship, motivation, teaching, and family. “Early in our marriage, when Mike was the head basketball coach at West Point, I told him that one day I was going to write a book and I already had the title: The Season Never Ends.” - Mickie Krzyzewski

Chapter 13 - Blueprint Basics: commitment, excellence, motivation, teaching, family.

“It’s important to remember that every person is different and has to be motivated differently.” (pg. 203)

Chapter 14 - The Core of Character: courage, confidence, continual learning, hard work, honesty and integrity.

“Courage gives a leader the ability to stand straight and not sway no matter which way the wind blows.” (pg. 221)

“With accomplishment comes confidence and with confidence comes belief. It has to be in that order.” (pg. 221)

Chapter 15 - Friendship: “We will always be friends,” when friends leave, Jim Valvano.

“Life changes when you least expect it to. The future is uncertain. So, seize this day, seize this moment, and make the most of it.” (pg. 237)

“Friendships, along with love, make life worth living.” (pg. 237)

Chapter 16 - Life: adversity, a season out, lessons learned, remember your core.

“I try to keep a balance with all the people and things I love in my life.” (pg. 257)

“Coaching basketball is my vehicle for life--for the larger journey.” (pg. 257)

Whew, that was a pretty lengthy outline; thanks for sticking with it all the way through! As I said, there is so much wisdom and practical advice to get from this book, and I hope that you all learned something of value from the information presented here. I know that I have been reminded of many key aspects of leadership including the centrality of focus, the importance of good relationships, and the necessity of keeping balance in our lives.

Thanks again for reading, and I hope you look forward to next week’s post!

Practical Takeaway: Take 1 minute and write down one quote or theme from this book that struck a chord with you, and then email me to let me know what it was.

Walk Worthy,