You: More like ‘Coach K’ or Bobby K?

The leadership styles of college basketball coaches Bobby “The General” Knight and Mike “Coach K” Krzyzewski couldn’t be further apart.

Knight, head coach at Texas Tech University, is a brash taskmaster who leads through strictness and intimidation. Knight has made headlines over the years for his angry outbursts … often directed at players.

Duke University coach Krzyzewski uses positive reinforcement, an open style and obvious support for his players.

Both are top coaches. They have similar win/loss records. Both are passionate, disciplined and competent, and both care about their players.

In deciding which path is for you, consider these concepts from Harvard business professor Scott Snook:
  1. Effective leaders understand their own assumptions about human nature. If you think people generally try to do their best, you’ll empower them and get out of their way. If you think people need a cattle prod, you’ll build your style on tight supervision, rewards and penalties.

  2. A leader’s style is shaped by both self-awareness and awareness of the situation. Which coach’s approach better describes your culture? Be clear in interviews, and you’ll attract people who fit.

  3. Your willingness to expand your self-awareness, situational awareness and adaptability will increase your effectiveness.
Coach K’s style is certainly in fashion, but many of Knight’s alumni love him like a father. Some use his tough-love approach in their jobs.

—Adapted from “On managing with Bobby Knight and ‘Coach K’,” Sean Silverthorne, HBS Working Knowledge,