Duke - The Fuqua School of Business

Feature Story

Coach Mike Krzyzewski Gives Advice to MBA Students

Duke Men's Basketball coach teaches Daytime students as part of their leadership development experience

Coach K speaks to Daytime MBA students

Coach K speaks to Daytime MBA students

May 15, 2014

Coach Mike Krzyzewski knows what it means to inspire. In his 34 years as head coach of the Duke Men's Basketball team he's won four national championships. Internationally, he's helped the USA Men's Basketball team bring home Olympic gold. Krzyzewski says natural talent doesn't always guarantee success.

"You want to go into an atmosphere where people are really wanting to get better," he said. "And they're not afraid of you getting better." 

Krzyzewski spoke to students at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, where he teaches and writes about leadership issues with the Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership and Ethics (COLE). The event was part of the Daytime students' two year leadership development experience done in conjunction with COLE.  A distinctive part of the program is the integrative and intentional leadership developmental journey. Krzyzewski advised students to look back on their time in the MBA program and reflect on what they will take with them to their new careers - especially skills like teamwork.

"The coolest thing about this is that you've learned from one another," he said. "And going forward, I think that's a heck of a lesson."

Krzyzewski also told the group to always be open to learning, particularly as they enter a new job or career path.

"There is knowledge that those people have that you don't have," he said. "And there is knowledge that you have that they don't have."

Specifically, Krzyzewski addressed the team culture that Fuqua is known for and shared a valuable lesson from his time with basketball great Michael Jordan. In 1992, Krzyzewski was coming off two consecutive NCAA tournament championships and was feeling pretty good.

The team's next practice was in San Diego with some NBA stars, including Jordan.

Jordan played basketball at the University of North Carolina so Krzyzewski was expecting some ribbing from the former rival. 

"I'm thinking as a guy, he's going to come over to me and just bust my chops," Krzyzewski joked. "I've got the USA shirt on. Being a military guy, a former Army officer, Army captain, I'm going to take this for my country."

Instead, Jordan told Krzyzewski he wanted to work on his offense. He addressed Krzyzewski as "coach" and asked if he could "please" help him. Krzyzewski agreed, and they practiced together. When the practice was over, Jordan thanked him.

Krzyzewski said Jordan -- a high profile celebrity -- could have tried to make him feel small, but instead chose to treat him with respect. Jordan understood collaboration and the need for cooperation across all parts of the team. He demonstrated that the best players can forge strong relationships by not acting with ego, but humility. It was a reminder that regardless of talent, leadership and relationship building starts with the basics - recognition of each other's value and treating each other with respect.