Duke University’s head basketball coach Mike “Coach K.” Krzyewski wrote the book on leadership. Ask him to define the quality and he’ll remind you of it: “How much do you want to know?”
His recipe: Confidence—or cockiness, if Duke’s a rival—combined with what he calls natural leadership ability. In lieu of structured playgrounds at his Chicago elementary school, Coach K was the kid organizing recess kickball games. “I just always instinctively did that,” he says. (Here’s the ultimate March Madness workout.)
Trust is the most important ingredient of leadership, says Coach K. And to develop it, you have to invest in others and yourself. Emails can create facades. Make eye-contact. Choose face-to-face conversations. “The more you do it, the more you’ll develop that bond,” he says.
Most importantly, trust yourself. Coach K. has repeatedly turned down attempts—from the NBA and other colleges—to leave Duke. You can’t always trust money and the lore of the NBA, and year after year he’s put his trust in Duke.
With so many wins, how much does one more matter? A lot, Coach K. says. “It’s not an accumulation of wins, it’s a new start every year and every game. It’s not about you—it’s about the group. Each group deserves that. If you can’t give that, you shouldn’t be a leader.”
He says he owes his players the same passion, preparation, and competitiveness that he puts forth each year. And after a loss, he’s always looking forward. “Next play,” he says. In basketball, and in life, failure can never be a destination.
Learn from Other Leaders
When Coach K. became college basketball’s winningest coach, he surpassed a record held by his former coach at West Point, Bobby Knight. “I went to the best school for leadership in the world,” he says.
Discipline, perseverance, and character—the traits that Coach K. learned from watching Knight and other military officers—led him to his own victory.