December 19, 2011| 0

Coach K on Connecting with Players: Lessons for Business

The excitement of college basketball is in full swing. This past summer I read an insightful column in the Wall Street Journal by guest author, Mike Krzyzewski, Hall of Fame coach of the Duke University men’s basketball team. Coach K reflected, in this excerpt, on the need for leaders to connect deeply with the people they are called to lead:

After the 1999 season, when we lost to Connecticut in the national championship game, several of our top players left Duke earlier than expected. Shane Battier, who had played a supporting role on that team, was going to have to become our star.

Shane and I agreed that he would need to emerge as the team leader, but there was one problem: Shane had never imagined himself as a star.

After the players had gone home for the summer, I gave Shane a call.

“Shane,” I said, “this morning, did you look in the mirror and imagine that you were looking at next year’s conference player of the year?”

He chuckled, “Coach, I…”

I hung up.

The next day I called again. “Shane, it’s Coach. When you were on your way to work this morning, did you imagine scoring 30 points in a game this season?”

He laughed cautiously and began to respond before I hung up again.

Seconds later, my phone rang. “Coach,” Shane said, “Don’t hang up on me.”

“I won’t hang up on you if you won’t hang up on you,” I told him.

Shane needed to imagine these sorts of things in order to become the player that he could be. Before he graduated, Shane earned National Player of the Year honors while leading our team to the 2001 national championship. He had all the tools necessary to become a great player, but he fully realized his potential only when he allowed himself to imagine great things.

Few of us will coach college athletes in national championship games. But those of us in business are uniquely positioned to open doors to greatness and to push for change. We can call those entrusted to our leadership to uphold higher standards. We can do the same for our profession, as many are questioning the role of business in society following a tumultuous time of economic crisis and moral failure. The need for renewal and a clear and compelling vision for the marketplace may be greater now than ever before.

As you pause and consider your own leadership, what do you believe those in your organization need to hear in order to rise to their potential? What parts of your business can you wholeheartedly affirm, and how can that best be done? What segments need radical transformation? How do you inspire greatness and character in others, inviting friends and co-workers to steer clear of misdirected ambitions that lead to mediocrity - or worse - to being shamed and disheartened?

The CIB (and partnering organizations in this broader movement) are driven by a desire to help business lay hold of its full potential as a force for good in the world. We believe that business’ rightful place is as a creative partner, an ethical steward, and a life-giving institution. We recognize business’ strategic opportunity to urge individuals to become all that God intends them to be, and to work and lead with integrity in shaping a more just and sustainable world.

As Coach K observes, “meaning is understood by seeing a word in action.” The need is urgent for business to put good ideas and intentions into practice. Leaders who model high character and exemplary practice ignite our imaginations, guide our ambitions, and spur us to re-envision our work. It is our high privilege and our great responsibility to help recreate business so that it inspires, earns, and keeps people’s confidence and trust. Will you imagine that high calling in the year to come?


John Terrill is Director of the Center for Integrity in Business at Seattle Pacific University.


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