I often learn things from sports that are very applicable in business and Duke Basketball Coach Mike Kryzewski’s (Coach K) 1,000th victory provided one of those moments. In all the post victory analysis, one theme kept resonating. Coach K treats every single player differently. He takes the time to understand the player and then uses that understanding to get the most out of them (and help them develop).

Coach k

The Battier story

Shane Battier, who I have written about before, told the story that most resonated with me. When Shane Battier was at Duke early in his career, Coach K kept probing as to what was important to him. It was not how many points he scored. When Coach K asked, “are you ready to lead this to team and be an All-American,” that motivated Battier. Battier went on to be an all-American that year (2001) and Duke won a national championship.

The lesson

Many books on leadership and coaching extoll a strategy of what to say to employees to motivate them, but it is not optimal to pursue a one size fits all strategy. A pep talk may work great for one employee while a cynical employee may get de-motivated. Motivating by financial incentives can work great with some people while others will then just do the minimum needed to get the financial incentives. A laid back approach works fantastic with certain employees while others will take advantage and spend all their time playing Trivia Crack.

If you want to be as successful as Coach K, you should spend time with every individual employee and get to understand them. Then work with them to build a plan that works for them and optimizes their contribution to the organization.

Key takeaways

  1. Duke Basketball Coach Mike Kryzewski’s (Coach K incredible success is largely due to treating every player differently
  2. What motivates one person may not motivate somebody else
  3. The best way to lead is to understand each individual and build a plan for each that optimizes their contribution.