Close this search box.
Close this search box.

Coach K: ‘If Your Team Doesn’t Hear You, You’re Not Saying Anything’

© AdobeStock
In this edition of our Corporate Competitor Podcast, Don Yaeger sits down with Duke coaching legend Mike Krzyzewski to discuss the importance of communication (and other key traits) in a great leader.

“Never assume,” says Duke University coaching legend Mike Krzyzewski. Never assume the person you’ve spoken to understands you 100 percent until you see proof that your message has been received and, preferably, acted on. 

Too often, leaders allow themselves to feel so busy that they communicate quickly, without taking the time to see whether their team fully heard them—and that represents a job only half done, says Kryzewski, affectionately known as Coach K. “The person sending the message is responsible for making sure it was heard and understood in the way it was meant,” said Coach K in a recent episode of Corporate Competitor Podcast. 

When it comes to communicating effectively with a diverse set of individuals comprising a team, Coach K believes that one size definitely doesn’t fit all. “You have to put yourself in position to have conversations and build relationships with people. You need impromptu conversations,” he added, based on the leader’s ability to correctly read situations and be able to change their plan and not feel beholden to it.

One of Coach K’s former stars and assistant coaches, Jay Bilas, remembers just such an instance that took place 32 years ago on a Sunday practice that took place the day after Duke defeated the University of Nevada Las Vegas in the NCAA semi-finals. Although Duke was a strong team, UNLV was considered to be perhaps the greatest men’s college basketball team of all time. With the NCAA National Championship at stake the following day, Coach K didn’t like the air of overconfidence and satisfaction he saw in his players as they shuffled out to practice.

“And so he called us back into the locker room and said, ‘I don’t like the way we’re walking. I don’t like the way we’re talking. They aren’t right,’” recounted Bilas, who went to become an ESPN analyst. “Coach said that if this was our mental state going into the championship, we were not going to win it. We had to refocus.” 

The message was heard. The Blue Devils refocused and went on to beat Kansas for one of Coach K’s five National Championships in 13 Final Four appearances. 

In the podcast, the Naismith Hall of Fame coach tells listeners how being a great competitor begins with being a great communicator:

• The two questions he always asks his team in order to understand them better.

• The importance of showing respect to everyone in your organization, not just your stars.

• Creating “feel it” moments that bond teammates to a bigger cause and to one another. 

If some 42 seasons of coaching experience at Duke have taught Coach K anything, it is that a team has to feel their belief in themselves and their teammates before they pledge themselves fully to the team’s larger mission and purpose. “You don’t own something, until you feel it,” he said of great teams. “You know, until it penetrates your heart and your mind.”


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.