Saturday, December 5, 2009


Having read over 200 books on leadership, I prefer a book not by someone who has thought well about leadership, but someone who has actually been a successful leader. If John Wooden's book on leadership is my favorite, Mike Krzyzewski's book, Leading with the Heart is a close second.

Coach K and I were cadets at West Point at the same time. He was in the class of 1969, two classes after me, so even though we were assigned to the same cadet regiment, I remember him mainly from what he did on the basketball court. Back then, with Bobby Knight as the head coach, the undersized Army basketball team played in the final four of the NIT two years in a row.

I was a graduate student at Duke from 1971 to 1973, before Coach K's first year as coach. Translation: this was before he built the now-famous Blue Devil program, so in those days I paid more attention to American literature than to basketball. But now I'm an over-the-top Duke hoops fan. I even search the web for recruiting news during the summer.

So what would a basketball coach have to say about leadership? Here are some of my favorite Coach K quotes...

CHARACTER - "There are always those times when you're going to be down, it's how you step through it that makes you the person you are.''

COOPERATION - "People want to be on a team. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to be in a situation where they feel that they are doing something for the greater good."

EXCELLENCE -  "Everything we do has our own personal signature one it. So we want to do it as well as we possibly can."

LEADERSHIP - "Almost everything in leadership comes back to relationships."

LEADERSHIP - "People are not going to follow you as a leader unless you show them that you're real. They are not going to believe you unless they trust you. And they are not going to trust you unless you always tell them the truth and admit when you were wrong."

OPTIMISM - “Whether it's sunny or muddy or whatever, you figure a way to win. The only way you do that is to feel positively about your situation.”

PERSEVERANCE - "Don't let a single game break your heart."

RESPONSIBILITY -  "To be successful, you have to learn to do things you don't like. You find ways to like the process and make the most of that time."

SELF-DEVELOPMENT -  "Mistakes are a part of the building process. Mistakes have to be made. How you act when you make mistakes is of paramount importance."


Thomas Waterhouse said...

Excellent Denny! I am printing out the quotes, and the book looks like it might be a great "holiday read". Reading this article makes me think of a quote I heard somewhere along the way... "The test of a man isn't whether he falls into a hole or not; it's what he does when he finds himself there". Sorry I cannot name the author. I'm glad that we've connected. Thanks!

Meredith Bell said...

This is one of my favorite leadership books, too, and I love every one of these quotes. The one on self-development deserves serious reflection because we don't always react well when we're wrong and make mistakes. Thanks for compiling this list.

Kathleen Scott said...

Thanks for this list. I like watching Coach K & the team but I think I like finding these words even better.