June 17, 2015

By Eddie Pipkin


On April 6th, Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke Blue Devil’s won the 2015 NCAA basketball championship, the culmination of March Madness.  Coach K, as he is known by all, is the winningest coach in college basketball history.  In the course of his 40 year coaching career, he has won a total of 1,018 games, and led the Blue Devils to five NCAA championships, 12 Final Four appearances, and 12 regular season ACC conference titles.  Oh, he also has two gold medals from coaching the U.S. men’s basketball Olympic teams.  He is a proven leader.

It’s always good to learn from the wisdom of other leaders (whatever their field) and Coach K is no exception.  He has written leadership books and given countless speeches.

He’s famous for saying things like, “Wake up every day happy that you’re a coach . . . and don’t forget that during a bad practice.”  Not bad advice for those in ministry leadership.  Wake up and get to work every day thankful that we have the opportunity to do Kingdom work with eternal consequences.  It’s always interesting work—frequently inspiring—oftentimes life-changing in big and small ways for those involved, and it’s important to not let a “bad practice” discourage us.  Because even a championship team has an occasional out-of-sync practice or bad game.  That’s just natural.  Move on.

During a leadership panel discussion at the Miliken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, Coach K gave some insights into how he builds winning teams:

  1.  Leadership Isn’t Singular:  He made the point that “no one leads alone.”  No matter how gifted we are, how smart, or how strong-willed, it takes an entire team to achieve success.  This is best accomplished through strong individual relationship development in which teammates learn the natural connections which will help them inspire, encourage, and enable one another to develop their maximum potential.  Give everyone a share in the leadership and learn over time which tasks are best suited to which team members—but everybody gets to lead something sometime.
  2. Soaring Egos Need a Higher Purpose:  if you have built a team with very gifted raw talent, they need a big dream to chase.  High performing people are most strongly motivated by high expectations and improbable goals.  Don’t build a dream team and then handcuff them to the same tired old model for doing things.  Sell them on a bigger vision and give them the freedom to be creative in bringing it to life.
  3. Great players learn best from each other.  When there is a high level of talent on the team, one of the strongest continuing education components can be team members sharing insights from their own individual work.  What processes help them be most efficient and effective?  What inspires them?  What do they see in their teammates that they would most like to learn about?  Give team members a chance to share the skills they know best.
  4. Love Them After They Leave You.  People move on to other things, and when it’s time for one of your leaders to move on to a different job at another church or a different ministry within the same congregation, don’t begrudge their growth and progression.  Keep the connection.  Encourage them on their journey and check on them in their new endeavor.  In this manner you can build powerful networks that bear fruit down the road.

And here’s another piece of advice that Coach K. famously gave LeBron James last year when he was struggling with the decision of whether to leave behind his Miami teammates and return to the Cleveland Cavaliers: “’Do what you feel you need to do. You don’t owe anybody, you owe yourself.”  When we’re dealing with people on our ministry team who are making decisions about what is next for them, we would, of course, tweak that to say, “Do what God is calling you to do,” but from a coach’s perspective (basketball coach or ministry coach) it’s a lesson in humility in the sense that it reminds us that part of what we are called to do is to help others find their path and have the courage to follow it.  We are sometimes so caught up in the work of getting done what we need to get done—in bringing our own ministry vision to life—that we forget that one of our most important jobs is to develop other leaders who can carry the work forward.  It can be very tempting to hold an individual’s growth back because WE need him or her to continue as part of OUR team.

At a recent Mother’s Day worship service, the topic was “Advice Your Mother Gave You,” and we heard the story of some sage words from grandmother to a recent mom as she cradled her newborn: “Never forget—that child is not here to fulfill your expectations.  She is here to be who God created her to be.”  That’s sound wisdom from leaders of teams, whether from a grandma OR the winningest basketball coach of all time.  Some of the most important Kingdom work we ever do is nurturing disciples so that they may answer their unique, God-ordained calling.  And in the eternal scheme of things, that’s better than any basketball trophy, isn’t it?

Did reading Coach K’s advice remind you of some of your own ministry experiences, either as a leader or a team member learning from (or frustrated by) a leader?  Share your insights in the COMMENTS section.