Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke


Thought Leadership & 1,000 Victories!

Volume: February 2015

By Doug Van Dyke, Leadership Simplified, www.leadershipsimplified.com


The latest buzz-phrase in the leadership world is “thought leader.” Leadership gurus are all jockeying for Internet space in an attempt to corner the market on thought-leadership. Managers are being advised to be thought leaders without any guidance or definition behind the request. So, without further ado, I will share a definition and throw my hat in the ring in an effort to add clarity to a foggy issue. Thought Leadership is moving the hearts and minds of the people you influence in such a profound manner that their actions and behaviors follow the direction you recommend. Superb leaders deliver great and positive impact to the organizations they influence. And it starts with the kind of thought-leadership that the person at the top puts forth.


A strong thought-leader is Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski or Coach K – who last week notched his 1,000th career victory. This is an NCAA men’s basketball record. Whether you are a Duke fan or not (and I know many of you are in the “not” category) and even if you do not like sports analogies, there is much to learn from what propelled Coach K to 1,000 wins.


On the night that Coach K was sealing his milestone victory I was, ironically, in an audience listening to Christian Laettner, who played for Coach K. Christian is a Duke Basketball legend who was in Florida to conduct a youth basketball camp and help fundraise for non-profits. During his talk, Christian Laettner spoke passionately about the reasons why the Duke basketball team wins so frequently. According to Christian, Coach K’s thought-leadership lies at the center of Duke’s winning ways.


Christian stated that a big part of Coach K’s winning formula is his ability to “break the big plays into little, manageable pieces.” He told a story about an end-of-game play that called for one player to throw the ball the length of the court, another player to catch the ball, and then Christian to shoot the ball. The only thing each player needed to focus on was their small piece of the greater whole. In other words, the players could laser-in on a routine action, as opposed to stressing out about scoring a basket in two seconds. Coach K’s ability to dissect the complex and transform it into the simple enabled his team to prepare in a logical manner. In the process, Coach K provided a methodical approach to preparing the team for intense pressure situations. Christian stated that Coach K did a masterful job of creating a culture of preparation. Not only did the team follow the ideas and practices that Coach K instilled, it helped them to achieve many great victories. Alabama’s Bear Bryant, another great coach, summed it up this way: "It's not the will to win that matters - everyone has that. It's the will to prepare to win that matters."


As leaders, we have to be mindful that preparation leads to perfection. As such, there are a bevy of questions that we should ask ourselves:

  • Are we, and our team, adequately prepared for pressure situations and engaging in difficult conversations?
  • Does our organization have adequate financial resources?
  • Have we developed our own leadership skills, as well as the skills of our team members?
  • Are we preparing and communicating messages that are consistent with our core values, and that possess stickability for the recipient? 
  • Have we laid the groundwork to enable our organizational priorities to be realized?  
  • Are we helping to break down the complex into smaller, manageable pieces? 


During his talk, Christian Laettner highlighted the kind of expectations that Coach K held for his players. As a team, of course, they were expected to win. However, in order to orchestrate team victories, Coach K held different expectations for different players in order to maximize individual performance. Coach K knew who he could challenge and stretch, as well as who he needed to nurture. As leaders, are we expecting the highest performance possible from team members – within the limits of their capabilities? And are we making certain that expectations have been individually shared in a manner that resonates with each team member?  


Confidence. Christian Laettner talked about both the confidence that Coach K possessed personally and the collective confidence his Duke basketball team possessed. Where does confidence lead? Frankly, a well-prepared and confident team possesses the collective mindset to know that they will win, despite an unfavorable climate. Think of your organization. Any team can be confident in a favorable environment. However, some teams deteriorate into disarray when storms arise and market conditions change. A well-prepared team will expect to win no matter what challenges they face. This does not mean that their collective road will be rosy or that they will not experience fear. Instead, it means that the confident leader and team will emerge from major challenges intact and possessing positive momentum. Henry Ford said “If you think you can do a thing, or you think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” Preparation leads to confidence. Thoughtful leaders prepare people to expect to win.


Bottom Line: Thought leadership sets the tone for winning. A focused leader helps their team properly prepare. As the team thoroughly prepares (for both the known and for the possible), it positions itself for world-class performance. This builds confidence that will meet high expectations: The kind of expectations that will be delivered by a confident team led by a thoughtful, superb leader.  


Doug Van Dyke is a Tampa Bay based executive coach, leadership development expert, and strategic planner. To learn more about leadership development programs, coaching, strategic planning, and consulting services, visit www.leadershipsimplified.com or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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