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Transformative Leadership: Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s Impact at Duke University

Jul 24, 2023 | 0 comments

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Jul 24, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments


Many responsibilities come with being a leader. It is not just a matter of being appointed and become the boss but rather one’s ability to inspire and be a role model to the people. A further role of being a leader is to be able to produce a team that is productive and has the capability of putting their skills into use. It is not easy to reach the fifth level of leadership but with dedication and hard work it is achievable. Many historical leaders have reached the pinnacle level of leadership and they are appraised for the tremendous job work they commit themselves to. This paper is going to discuss Coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke University baseball team. His characteristics and achievements and how they relate to the characteristics of leadership in the five levels of leadership.


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Background Information

Michael William Krzyzewski was famously known by his nickname “Coach K” is the head coach of men’s basketball at Duke University. He was born on February 13th, 1947 in Chicago. Mike has served as the head coach at Duke University for 37 years; from 1980 to the present. He previously served as the head coach in the United States military academy. He has a total of 47 years in his career as a basketball coach.

In his career, Michael Krzyzewski has proven to be the best through his series of successes. In the history of men basketball division 1, no coach has won as many games as he has. He has earned himself several awards through his hard work and dedication as a coach and a mentor to the basketball team. It is through his great leadership and accomplishments that have inspired the young players of Duke University to aim the sky in basketball. Under his leadership, several players have won the title of national players of the year including Danny Ferry in 1989.

Apart from the success that coach mike has brought to the university in general, including making the team the best and longest ranked (number 1 seven times) among other teams in the AP polls, he has scooped so many awards as the leader of the team. According to his achievements Coach, Mike deserves every award that he has won so far.

He has been instated into the hall of fame about four times the latest being in 2011 where he was instated into the Duke Athletics Hall of Fame. He was named the National Coach of the year so many times but the recent one was in 2001. In 2004 he was named the Claire bee coach of the year, this award was for the coach who had made a positive impact on the basketball sport. Coach K has won several historical awards that he is among the few who have ever received awards this includes the Wayman Tisdale Humanitarian Award in 2012. These are just a few of the many awards that this coach has won in his coaching career. This is a clear indication of the kind of a leader he is, that he deserves to be called a fifth level leader.

Leadership Analysis

Level 1-Position Leadership

Level one is a starting point of every leader, so it is all up to the particular person to move on or stay at this level and boss people around for his/her appointed position. Maxwell (2011) considers the people at this level to be bosses, not leaders because anyone can be given a position but moving forward is not for everyone. His elaboration of the upside level of level 1, Maxwell (2011) claims that being appointed shows the potential one has in leadership. He goes ahead to highlights that leadership position comes with power and authority so the leader must prove that they deserve it. As stated earlier in the position level, the appointed person should have the ability to grow.

True leaders get off the mentality of being the boss and use their skills to get people to work. To grow a leader should initiate interaction with subordinates so that people can share their needs (Maxwell, 2011). The appointed leader needs to dedicate themselves to their jobs and focus on the vision.

From the characteristics of the level, one leadership listed above it is obvious that Coach Mike started from this point of being appointed as the head coach. His potential to make a great leader for the team was seen in his previous involvement in coaching. He was seen fit to be the university’s basketball head coach because of his previous enrollment in the U.S Military Academy (Duke, 2018). This is clearly seen in how he carries his work of disciplining the team and how he can deal with the mentally tough generation to produce the best.

When Coach Mike was being appointed back in 1980, they were looking for a strong leader that will carry on the success of the blue devils, by his achievements coach K has proved that he is worthy of the power and authority. He is a man with vision, his focus as the appointed was to focus on the success of the team that is why he has a quality program for the players that runs the recruitment to the performance of the team (Duke, 2018).

Level 2 Permission Leadership

In level two levels of leadership, is all about relationships. How to cement your relationship as a leader with the subordinates. It stops being about you as a leader but about how you treat and value the people you work with. Knowing your people and the people getting to know their leader creates a solid relationship, this creates an enjoyable working environment. It also motivates and boosts energy in the working areas. For leaders to achieve this level they have to be good listeners, respect, and trust people (Maxwell, 2011). When people are trusted they will feel free to share their strengths and their fears this will help the leader to come up with a strategy that will make his/her team productive by overcoming their weaknesses.

A leader who is willing to grow should encourage his/her team always and let them know that you care to maintain a positive relationship. A leader should possess the character of understanding your people, try to connect with them, and put into consideration where you are coming from.

According to Conley (2011), Coach K focuses on building the trust between him and the players because it is a vital trait for the players to transform their potential into performance. In a post-game interview Coach, K was asked to point out one characteristic of a coach that can make them successful as he is. This is how he answered:

“I think you have to be trustworthy. You have to take the time to develop a relationship that’s so strong with each player, and hopefully with the team, that they will trust you. They let you in, and if they let you in, you can teach. If they don’t let you in, you’re never going to get there.”

The answer that he gave shows that he had what a level 2 leader was supposed to possess the spirit of building a relationship (Conley, 2011).

Level 3- Production Leadership

Leaders have to grow from level 2 where the working environment is enjoyable to make things happen and be productive. Great leaders that produce positive results and achieve the set goals are seen at this level. They are the leaders who take risks and make tough decisions to make a difference. At this level, it is the results of the leaders that inspire the people, this where the true leadership skills are put into use. Once the subordinates see the impressive performance of their leader, they will also work hard to follow suit.

For making most production in leadership, Maxwell (2011) suggests that the leader should focus on things that yield a high return, this can be achieved by working together. By understanding everyone’s production niche it will be easier to set team goals and working towards achieving them. Always communicate to your team what is expected of everyone including the leader.

From his overwhelming success, one can see how focused and full of vision Coach Mike is. Going by the characteristics of level 3 leadership, coach K was so productive and he set the standard for his players to emulate, which motivates them every time to perform better. Coach Mike based his training and overall program mostly on the outcome. From his quotes, his goal is to make Duke’s success in basketball continuous and made a program that will boost the team’s performance years to come (Duke, 2018).

Coach Mike’s productivity is also evident in the number of awards and the achievements that his team has attained. The team has won the national championship five times and the latest being in 2015. 6 players were awarded the national defensive players of the year. Several players won the players of the year (Duke, 2018). The list is endless for the remarkable results that the team produces under Coach Mike.

Level 4- People Development Leadership

This level points out what the leader has done personally to people to influence their lives using his power and position. By investing in them, the relationship strengthens and helps in building loyalty hence reproduction. Maxwell (2011) explains that growing the people in the company, is the same as growing the company. It is very beneficial for a company to equip its team with leadership skills because this gives the leader some time to focus on other relevant issues.

The focus of the leader at this point is to help others to develop and become productive as the leader. This can be achieved by showing them how to lead and help them do their job well and succeed. It is also recommended that the leader follows up on the people he/she was developing and maximizes their potential.

In his position as a leader of Duke’s basketball team coach, Mike is using his platform to develop leadership skills in the younger generation. He established the Emily Krzyzewski Center in Durham named after his late mother who passed away in 1996. Coach Mike was raised in a less privileged family; he was mostly supported by a community center and the hard work of his mother to get an opportunity to join college (Duke, 2018).

He is doing the same by funding the Emily Center so as other young students can get the same opportunity to go to college and become great leaders to transform their families and communities. By allowing the economically disadvantaged students, empowering them for the future, and making them productive, Coach Mike is exhibiting strong leadership characteristics of being an inspiration and a blessing to many.

Level 5 –Pinnacle Leadership

This is the highest level of leadership and the most difficult. At this level, people follow you for what you represent. Very few leaders reach this level and if they do they portray a high level of talent and skills. Many leaders after reaching this point feel satisfied and think that they are done growing or learning but that is not the case, leaders at this level should continue developing other leaders and create a level 5 organization that will create a legacy within the same organization (Maxwell, 2011). As a skilled and talented leader, at this level, they should remain focused and stick to the vision. Other leaders come all the way to this level and get carried away by power and position and forget about their initial goal.

Despite his countless achievements and the many honors that he has received, Coach K has remained focused and has not been distracted by his fame and success. He is continuous to mentor young people in his team and outside to becoming great people. As much as he a sports leader, the coach always encourages them to work hard in their study and excel in their academics as well. Several players including, Mike Gminski, Jim Spanarkel, and others have been awarded the academic all-America Award.


From what we have learned from Maxwell’s 5 levels of leadership, it is correct to say that leadership is a calling and not everyone can make a great leader. From his characteristics and what he has been able to achieve, Coach Mike has earned the title of being the fifth level leader where very few people have managed to reach this level as leaders. His way of leading will be emulated by many for many years to come because Coach Michael Krzyzewski has left a legacy in the coaching world. I will close with a quote by John C. Maxwell that says “leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them”.


Conley, R. (2011). Be Like Mike – Duke’s Coach Krzyzewski’s Most Important Leadership TraitLeading with Trust. Retrieved 18 April 2018, from https://leadingwithtrust.com/2011/11/20/be-like-mike-dukes-coach-krzyzewskis-most-important-leadership-trait/

Maxwell, J. (2011). The five levels of leadership :|bproven steps to maximize your potential. New York: Center Street.

Duke. (2018). Men’s Basketball – Coaches – Duke University Blue Devils | Official Athletics Site – GoDuke.com. Goduke.com. Retrieved 18 April 2018, from http://www.goduke.com/SportSelect.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=4200&SPID=1845&SPSID=22725

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