Mike Krzyzewski, also known as Coach K, is a successful college basketball coach at Duke University. He is challenged on deciding if he is to accept a tempting offer of coaching a professional basketball team or to go ahead and continue with his coaching at the said university. This case study analysis discusses the various leadership styles and motivations.
Scott A. Snook; Leslie A. Perlow; Brian J. Delacey
Harvard Business Review (406044-PDF-ENG)
August 10, 2005
Case questions answered:
- Compare and contrast Coach K and Coach Knight. How are they different? How are they similar?
- Describe Coach K’s leadership style. What are his basic assumptions about motivation, leading, and human nature?
- Describe Coach Knight’s leadership style. What are his basic assumptions about motivation, leading, and human nature? Who is more effective? Why? Under what conditions would you hire Coach K? or Coach Knight?
- Think of a time when someone else (manager/coach/teacher/parent) motivated you to perform at your best. Why were they effective?
- Think of a time when you motivated others to perform at their best. Why were you effective?
- What are your basic assumptions about motivation, leading, and human nature?
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Coach K: A Matter of the Heart Case Answers
Coach K and Coach Knight: Leadership styles – their differences and similarities
Both Coach K and Coach Knight were dedicated and passionate about what they did. Both made history for their university basketball teams by leading them to fabulous wins and achievements, together with the records going along.
Family first, teacher second, and a basketball coach third vs. a tyrant, a benign benefactor, a parent – different names, different approaches, and coaching philosophy, however same logic and the same goals behind all that.
Both coaches were close to their players and students and were highly respected and extremely appreciated even when they left the teams.
Both showed so much compassion and attention when it was needed (to the injured players). They employed the same approach, the carrot and stick. However, one was showing more of the carrot and the other more of the stick.
It means that both coaches had both sides tough and sympathetic. However, one was more dominant than another. Both were using their approaches exclusively to change their teams for the better.
Passionate, demanding, and tough leadership style. He expected the absolute best all the time from his players. Very competitive himself, always wanting to win, this coach was highly disciplined and willing to win, excelling in academics while being a talented athlete.
Coach Knight did not forgive mistakes (those who mess up sitting on the bench, including punishments from throwing out of practice to dropping out from the team). Knight pushed players beyond physical and physiological limits.
He was a perfectionist. He thought that kids tolerate what the coach tolerates, meaning that if the coach can tolerate mistakes, the players will do that too, which will lead, in turn, to disaster.
Coach Knight achieved impressive results in college basketball as a coach and program director as well, and he got many athletes to become coaches (even his own assistants, Coach K) and NBA players.
He had a passion for everything he did in life. Helping kids become the best they can be in whatever they are going to do was his ultimate goal. He first wanted to be respected as a coach and did not care what people thought. His work was criticized a lot.
Bob Knight’s former athlete and later his assistant, Coach K, was an outstanding and respected college athlete. He was recommended by Knight to get hired by Duke University.
His leadership style was to build the relationship on trust by avoiding distance looking in the eyes and encouraging everyone to look in the eyes of each other. He raised his level of confidence by the way he walks, acts, smiles, and encourages everyone else to do so.
The Coach always remained close to his players and kept a family environment for everyone. As a warm-hearted person, he considered the team a family and was determined to work hard to build and continue strong friendships, which, along with love, made life worth living. He was extremely appreciated and respected by the university members as well.
Who is more effective? Hiring Coach K or Coach Knight?
Having been a professional athlete in the past, I am strongly sure that I don’t have an answer to the question of whose leadership style is more effective.
The statistics of outstanding, unreachable professional achievements of both coaches prove my thoughts and prove my personal experience.
Which is more effective?
Both. Both work, and it is true.
Coaching is, of course, about a leadership style, but not only. It also depends on many other factors like knowledge, strategy, talent, etc. Leading a masculine college team is a big challenge and requires tons of approaches.
Both coaches were tough on the one hand and caring and understanding on the other. One of the sides was dominant in their leadership styles (different).
Ideally, a coach should first combine both styles and, secondly, combine both of those combined styles with the individual approach. Some athletes need to feel the strictness and the toughness to perform their best.
Others need to feel sympathy and patience. However, when it comes to team sports, it becomes a different thing.
You cannot unite a team when you have an individual approach to each player. Team sports are all about the team and the bond inside it, which again makes it uneasy to think about what is better.
If I was to hire one of those coaches, knowing their outstanding results and statistics throughout their coaching career, as well as personally believing that both leadership styles work when it comes to sport, I would try to get recommendations from other professionals, but finally, I would also listen to inner me to make a decision.
Why the person who motivated me was effective?
That was my coach on the high school swim team in the United States. That was a leadership style that I described before. A man who was strict during the practice, allowing himself to scream to yell, to push you from the deck inside the water, to make you swim extra labs early in the morning because you weren’t good enough. Who was tough and dominant inside the pool, leaving the last word to himself.
The same man was a different person outside the pool. Seeing you in school and treating you as a special person among other peers, greeting you in a different way, and asking you about your physical and mental conditions. He was coming to team dinners and having fun, mocking everyone.
And there was a third person on the day of the competition. He was highly concentrated and determined. He was cheering up and encouraging. He was the one seeing your concerns and stress and right away came up to you and asked what was something that disturbed you.
He was immediately ready to explain something extra about your upcoming race to resolve the issue and said, “I am glad we had this conversation. Now go there, dive in, and do what you are prepared to do”.
He was giving you confidence and calming you down. He always made sure that you heard his voice every time you raised your head to take a breath when you raced. And you could always recognize his voice out of 20 voices of other coaches.
He was one of the leaders that I admired, the one that led me to the best results I had, and the one that impacted me and my life. His name is Aaron Thatcher. He still makes me smile when he comments on my picture on Facebook: “Looking great, girl! I am glad you are doing well!”.
How were you effective in motivating others to perform their best?
When I take the role of a leader in group work, for instance, I always try to serve as an example myself. I appear on time for team meetings, I meet agreed deadlines for the allocated tasks assigned to me, I act professionally and responsibly, and I expect others to act the same way. I propose my ideas, and I listen to the ideas of other group mates.
Why listening is important? Listening is important because being a leader does not mean that you may know everything from A to Z.
When I see that there might be room for improvement in a particular task for a particular teammate, I gently raise the topic, trying to keep a positive and friendly environment, being calm, tolerant, and comprehensive.
When I provide advice, I give my explanations and wait for the peer’s opinion. When I am sure that my recommendation may change something for the better, I act as somebody my teammate can rely on, and it works.
Judging by my experience, when you yourself act as an example by doing your best at every point of the work, that motivates others to act the same way.
When you make your teammates feel that they are valuable by listening to their ideas and allocating tasks to them, that also serves as a good motivation to work harder.
Basic assumptions about motivation, leading, and human nature
I believe that everything starts with yourself. Your own passion for what you are doing and your trust in your strengths motivate others around you. Being dedicated and ready to dig deeper is what makes a leader effective from the very first stage. Then, it comes to the personal approach.
Seeing what people are interested in and what they are passionate about may give a picture of a leadership style to implement. Gaining respect and appreciation is what can only be achieved by combining all in one: empathy, demanding, advising, listening, and many more.