A Leadership Lesson from Coach Mike Krzyzewski

The final buzzer marks the end of a basketball game. It is a simple noise with profound meaning; the score is final, the winner and loser are declared and competition is over until the next game.

Some final buzzers are more significant and memorable than others. On April 2nd, Coach Mike Krzyzewski, more commonly called Coach K, heard his last final buzzer as the coach of Duke University’s men’s basketball team. The buzzer marked the end of a historic career that lasted 46 seasons – amassing an NCAA record 1170 wins and five national championships.1

Coach K is known for his ability to develop leaders on and off the court. He is the namesake and executive-in-residence for the Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership and Ethics at Duke University. He is famous for many leadership lessons, but communication is one lesson worth emphasizing.

“Effective teamwork begins and ends with communication.” – Coach K

Basketball is a free-flowing sport. It requires teammates to communicate in order to play at their best as a team. Coach K’s teams are known to be very effective at communicating. This is intentional. According to Coach K, “Communication does not always occur naturally, even among a tight-knit group of individuals. Communication must be taught and practiced in order to bring everyone together as one.”

Communication is a key element of leadership and is included in Fisher Leadership Initiative’s BUILD Leadership Model. Communication is defined as an individual’s ability to send a clear and effective message to another party, as well as the ability to receive and understand others’ messages (Spitzberg & Hecht, 1984). To be effective, leaders must be able to communicate their mission or vision to followers (Melrose, 1997; Tucker & Russel, 2004) and clearly explain to followers how they are a critical part of this vision (Russell & Stone, 2002).

Coach K emphasizes communication for a reason. Communication has four major functions that benefit any team, regardless of the team’s purpose.

  • Connect – Communication allows leaders and teammates to connect, and connecting is important in building trust and performing as a team.
  • Inform and Align - Communication is needed to create shared understanding and alignment. This is critical for teamwork. It is often the difference between a group of individuals performing as individuals or a team performing together as one.
  • Establish Accountability - Expectation management and role clarification have to occur before leaders can hold others accountable. This requires communication.
  • Motivate – Effective communication is motivating. It can lead towards a sense of belonging, significance, and empowerment, all of which are strong motivators.

Coach K is known for producing winning teams that showcase incredible teamwork. At the center of that is leadership and communication. Communication is a critical skill for leaders and like all skills, it takes practice. As Coach K said, it doesn’t occur naturally and it has to be practiced.

Take a lesson from one of the greatest coaches of all time and improve your communication skills.


1 https://www.ncaa.com/news/basketball-men/article/2022-03-26/mens-di-col…

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.