I went to Duke. I know. You hate Duke, right? Sigh…most people do. And I was there for two national basketball championships. Now you hate me too, right?
The truth is that I was an art history major. I was not exactly camping out in Krzyzewskiville. But I learned something about Duke’s Coach K during the Council of PR Firms leadership conference facilitated by Dr. Ashish Nanda, from Harvard. One of his sessions focused on contrasting the leadership styles of Coach K and Coach Bobby Knight. Coach Knight being the well-known mentor of Coach K. Coach Knight also being an infamous figure in college basketball. Coach K being the darling. Two seemingly completely different leaders.
First, Dr. Nanda showed video of Coach K when he turned down the opportunity to coach the LA Lakers to the tune of $40 million. He was humble. He barely spoke anything of himself. An amazing feat considering it was a press conference about him. Rather, he thanked everyone else in the room. He thanked Duke for the opportunity to consider the prestigious offer, the Lakers for offering, his beloved students — he even apologized to Duke’s brand spanking new president for stealing the limelight unintentionally that week. He announced his decision to stay because, “Duke has always taken up my whole heart.” A leader who clearly leads with his heart and stays true to his values. We also watched video of Coach K describing the incredible win during the Duke versus Kentucky game in 1992. They were down a point with 2.1 seconds left in the game. Coach K did not say, “we are down a point,” rather, he emphatically stated, “we are going to win.” And they won.
In stark contrast to Coach K was Coach Knight. Brash, arrogant, pointed and profane. We watched two videos of him when he was accused of abusing his players and watched him defiantly defend himself. I absolutely would have feared being in the hallway with him in college. Then we watched video of him when he won his 880th game at Texas Tech. Still brash, arrogant and pointed, even stating how he knew some hated him and he did not care. But, as you watched him, you saw his passion for his team, his love and respect for them and admiration for what they had accomplished. You could see his commitment to excellence and to his values. One of his students tearily said his relationship with Coach Knight had changed his life like no one before. A dimension of leadership not dissimilar to Coach K. Not worlds apart as they had first appeared, but actually of the same world.
Dr. Nanda coached us through the session and explained along the way.
Effective coaching begins with what you value in life. Both coaches value and love their students, their institutions, their sport and excellence in everything they do.
It continues with conduct that is consistent and committed. Both are incredibly consistent in what they offer and what they expect of others. They live what they say and are completely authentic.
And their leadership is game on. They don’t just coach when there are 2.1 seconds left. They live in a constant state of leadership. Leadership is their heart, soul and passion.