How to lead the way

  • Published
  • By Maj. Carl Hutcherson
  • 92nd Maintenance Operations Squadron commander
Everybody knows Coach K, longtime head coach for the Duke Blue Devils college basketball team. His book on leadership "Leading with the Heart" is a must read for any leader. Coach K's perspective on leadership is relationship driven and principle centered; he believes in strength of character, solid preparation, making the sacrifice and giving your maximum effort.

Commitment is easily seen in a leader and so is the absence of it. If a leader is committed to the effort, the project or to the team, there is a much greater chance that the organization or the team will be committed also. Coach K gives the example of Christian Laettner coming into his office after the first Duke National Championship in 1991. He was tired and really needed a rest, but Laettner had been asked to participate in the trials for the Pan American games. Coach K explained how important it was for Duke that Laettner continued to improve his basketball skills, that the U.S. would probably want Laettner on the Olympic team, and his Duke teammates will see him as more of a leader when he accomplishes these big things. For Laettner, Coach K obtained a waiver so he did not have to play in the Pan Am trials, but just played in the games; Laettner's skills improved because of this, and he was the only college player to make the "Dream Team" and play in the Olympics that year.

The desire to be excellent is internal and is your personal motivation, according to Coach K. He gives the example of the woodwork in the Duke chapel. He points out how magnificent, detailed and intricate it is. He asks his players, "Why did the artist make the woodwork such a masterpiece?" The normal response is, "Because they paid him well." But Coach K says, "No, I don't believe that's the real reason." I believe the artist did this because he takes pride in what he does. Be excellent and the money or success follows.

Coach K believes motivation is one of his key responsibilities as a leader. He disagrees that it is the players' responsibility to show up motivated. Key in on human nature, get into your player's head, and then you will know what button to push at any given moment. He believes every person is motivated differently. Some need a pat on the rear and some need a kick in the rear. Some need challenges and encouragement. Some respond to criticism, and some go into a shell when criticized. Know your people well enough to understand what is effective with each. Coach K firmly believes the main job of a leader is to inspire his organization, team or group.

One of the most important parts of being a leader is being able to transfer your knowledge to your team. Make no mistake about this, you will be judged by how well your team performs "under game conditions." For a military leader, this is during the Operation Readiness Inspection, Unit Compliance Inspection, and most importantly during the fog and friction of war.

According to Coach K, "with accomplishment comes confidence and with confidence comes belief. It has to be in that order." Coach K started off his career at Duke with two losing seasons, but he did not let that get to him. Picking yourself up, following through with plans and commitments, and maintaining your convictions - that is courage. A strong wind may cause a leader to change his strategy, but it should never change his core beliefs. These are what define us.

Confidence is crucial in a leader. To realize your own potential and to achieve true success, you have to have confidence in yourself. Getting experience and successes gives you confidence. Most importantly, honesty and integrity are at the heart of character - always tell the truth. There is no other way to operate.