Last week I had the chance to spend time with my old friend John Calipari, coach of the University of Kentucky basketball team. I met “Coach Cal” more than 35 years ago at the University of Massachusetts when he was on the coaching staff and I was a faculty member. Through the years, our careers have both been focused on leadership skills—mine emphasizing the development of business leaders and Cal’s concentrating on leading young athletes.
I believe that people want to grow and develop, and that the job of a great leader is to bring out the magnificence in people. I can’t think of a better example of this than Cal.
As I watched Cal working with his team, I asked him about his vision for them. He said, “We’re in the life skills business. We just happen to play basketball.” What a wonderful perspective. As a true servant leader, he wants to prepare these kids for life and help them accomplish their dreams. He realizes that leadership isn’t about him; it’s about the team he serves. In his book Players First: Coaching from the Inside Out, he challenges players to be the best they can be and to help bring out the best in their teammates.
Calipari has led his team to the elusive Final Four tournament three times in the past four years. They won it all in 2012. When asked about that NCAA Championship, he replied, “It isn’t about me. It’s about these 13 players.” He truly trusts that each player has a special skill, talent, or strength and that his job is to help each individual develop to his highest level.
Although Coach Cal starts out with a new team every season and works within a specific time frame, he uses the same skills to build team after successful team. Business leaders can learn a lot from Calipari’s leadership style. All leaders should spend time with their direct reports to understand their individual strengths, help each of them realize their brilliance, and bring out their magnificence. It’s an investment that serves the individual, the leader, and the organization.