Lessons in Winning Gracefully from Coach K

Posted 11.16.2011

In what ended up being a pretty close game, Duke beat Michigan State at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.  In the process, Coach Mike Krzyzewski set a record by winning his 903rd Division I basketball game.  With the win, he passed his former coach, boss and mentor Bob Knight who was sitting court side calling the game for ESPN.  It was a pretty compelling moment made more so by the way Coach K conducted himself in the minutes after the game.

As you can see in this interview with ESPN’s Andy Katz, the coach showed grace, gratitude and perspective after setting the record.

If you’re fortunate as a leader, there will be times when you can see a big win coming up before it happens.  In Coach K’s case, it was a lock that he was going to break the record this season, it was just a question of when.  By thinking in advance how he wanted to handle himself if he won at MSG in front of his old coach, he created an opportunity to show leaders how to win gracefully.

Here are three lessons from the coach that stood out for me.

  • Show grace –  When the buzzer sounded, Coach K hugged his staff, walked down the sideline and hugged his long time friend and rival, Spartans coach Tom Izzo.  He then proceeded to shake the hand of every MSU player just like he does at the end of every game.  He then walked over to the broadcast table for a long embrace with Bob Knight. Coach K recognized that all the eyes and cameras were on him and conducted himself with grace and dignity.
  • Show gratitude – When the time came for the post game interview at center court,  the first question was about what he said to Knight during their hug.  Coach K said, “I told him I love him and that I wouldn’t be in this position without him.”  He then expressed his appreciation for his circumstance and shared the credit by saying, “When you have really good players and a great school, you’re going to win a lot of games.”  On a night when it could have been all about him, he didn’t make it all about him.
  • Show perspective – One of the last questions for the Coach was after setting this record, winning championships and Olympic gold medals, what are you going to do next? His simple, quiet and immediate response was, “Developing this team. We have some great kids and we want to have a really good season.”

Coach K is clearly a winner and a leader. He’s not perfect. None of us are. That said, he set a good example on Tuesday for leaders who experience a big win.

Think of leaders you’ve seen who won with grace. What have you noticed that stands out?