Six Leadership Lessons For Pastors From Coach K


On April 6, the Duke Blue Devils defeated the Wisconsin Badgers  68-63 to give Coach Mike Krzyzewski his fifth national championship. As I was reading Sports Illustrated's write-up on the game in their April 13 issue, I picked up six lessons that you and I can apply to our lives and leadership as pastors.

1. Learn From Your Losses

Following a 14-0 start, Duke got blown out by NC State and Miami in back-to-back games in January. From Krzyzewski's perspective, those losses woke the team up and served as a learning experience. 'If you handle losses the right way, then losses can be very beneficial. What you do with a win or loss determines how much better you are going to be.' 

As you lead staff and volunteers in the church, encourage risk-taking and expect failure. Help your team learn from losses. That experience is more valuable than creating an environment that plays it safe or refuses to tolerate anything short of perfection

2. Draw Up A New Blueprint

After the loss to Miami, Coach K and his staff stayed up until 5am the next morning looking for ways to improve Duke's defense. At his suggestion, the team moved away from their trademark man coverage and began incorporating a zone defensive scheme. That willingness to break one of the cardinal doctrines of Duke's philosophy provides an important reminder:

As your team grows or finds itself stuck, consider the possibility that what worked yesterday philosophically is not what you need right now. While your theology is timeless, your philosophy and methodology of ministry is not. Radical changes are not your first move, but they may be the right move right now.

3. Help Your Team Focus

After defeating Louisville with their new defensive scheme, the Blue Devils lost to Notre Dame, 77-73. While not a crippling loss, Krzyzewski picked up on the fact that his team was 'thinking about offense when we went to defense.' The loss to the Fighting Irish exposed a team that was caught in no man's land, failing to focus on what they needed to do on the defensive side of the ball.

Pay attention to the no man's land that exists on your team, particularly when inordinate time is spent thinking rather than focusing on execution. Get the right people honing your strategy at the right time. And then get to work turning your ideas into action.

4. Build Trust With Your Team

The standard recruiting practice at most schools is to offer scholarships to several players at one position and wait to see who commits first. Noting the guilt trip used by many to induce players to sign, Krzyzewski has decided to not recruit some other players in order to reinforce the message: 'You're the guy we want.' Why do that and risk missing out on signing other players? 'I want them to trust me from the very beginning.'

In an effort to get ahead, more and more churches are firing staff or pushing aside volunteers. And while that approach may result in better performance in the short-term, I wonder if you end up losing in the long run. Consider the option of investing in the development of the team you have right now. Don't toss someone aside because of your failure to lead them. Create a culture of trust by committing to and investing in the leaders that you have already recruited. Firing and replacement should be the last option you take. 

5. Never Stop Learning

Coach K is 68 years old. He has the second most national championships behind John Wooden. But since taking a side-gig as the coach of the U.S. Olympic team, he has come to understand 'there are so many things I didn't know. I'm a much different coach than I was ten years ago, and I think I'm a better coach.

A lot of us have heard the adage that 'leaders are readers.' And for many of us in pastoral ministry, that's a true story. But don't discount the opportunity to sit down with someone with different ways of leading their church, asking questions, and applying what you learn. Your willingness to engage the ideas of others keeps you young and provides fresh material to share with your team.

6. Give Credit To Your Team

Following the win against Wisconsin, Krzyzewski said, 'These kids really never get the credit that a team [not] coached by me or [a team not] at Duke would get.' In perhaps his greatest season of coaching, praise gets deflected to his players.

The lesson here is not simply to realize the importance of your team. When is the last time you publicly thanked your staff and volunteers? As the pastor of your church, you will receive compliments for work you don't do. Will you quickly point out who the real heroes are in your church?

Do The Next Right Thing

Take the next ten minutes and write out an action plan for applying one of these lessons this week. And pay it forward by adding your action plan to the comments section below!

Hey, and if this was helpful to you, make sure to share it with a friend! Use the menu on the left side of the page to post this on social media, save it in Evernote, or email it to someone else. 

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