Business Coaching Lessons from Duke’s Inspiring Mike Krzyzewski

 duke basketball

Mike Krzyzewski – Duke University’s legendary basketball coach known as “Coach K” – is one of the most respected and successful sports coaches in history.  He has not only builds winning teams, he has also changed the lives of countless players, changed the University where he has spent the last 30 years of his career, and changed what it means to be a coach.

Does his approach to coaching basketball offer lessons that transfer to business coaching? Absolutely! We recently spent some time reviewing an interview with Coach K. that Greg Dale published on the Championship Coaches Network and found these lessons that have a major impact on your company’s mentoring and coaching initiatives.

Lesson One: Coaching Is All About Trust

“Without trust, you have nothing,” Coach K. tells the interviewer.  He describes an ideal coaching relationship as one where there are “two arrows” – the coach uses one arrow to deliver truthful messages to the trainee, and the trainee uses the other arrow to send the same kind of messages back to the coach.

Lesson Two: Coaching Is About Developing People, not Skills

“We aren’t coaching x’s and o’s, we are coaching people,” Coach K tells the interviewer. The “x’s and o’s” he refers to are skills that players learn in training and practice. Coaching is different. It’s about cultivating a supporting relationship between coach and trainee.

Lesson Three: Good Coaching Depends on a Selfless Investment of a Coach’s Time

Coach K believes that his success has hinged on his willingness to devote as much time as is needed to building a relationship with each player. He gets to know each of them, learn about their backgrounds and ambitions, and reviews the progress they are making in their coursework.

Lesson Four: Good Coaches Understand that Different Rewards Motivate Different Players

Some are encouraged by a pat on the back, others by an encouraging conversation, other by just a word of encouragement. Good coaches know each player well enough to understand what works. We think the same principle holds true when coaching employees in business.

Lesson Five: Great Coaches Coach their Staffs

Coach K applies his coaching philosophy to all the members of his coaching staff, not just to players. That builds a cohesive team of coaches who achieve much better results. Clearly, the same principle can achieve better results if used in a training or mentoring program

Lesson Six: Good Coaches Keep Positive Messages in the Feedback Mix

Coach K will say to a player, “Do you know what you just did . . . that was great!” That makes players more receptive to any criticism that he might have to give.

Lesson Seven: What a Player Needs this Year Could Change Next Year

Coach K points out that great coaches don’t decide on one set of coaching tools for each player and keep using them indefinitely. Coaching needs to evolve as a trainees grow and change.

The Message? Training and Coaching Are Not the Same

As Coach K. says, training is about skills and coaching is about developing the individual in way that will have a positive effect that can last years.