March Madness wrapped up a week ago.  I was torn while watching the final.  As the youngest of five boys and life-long fan of teams like the Red Sox, I love underdogs. (Remember, before 2004 the Red Sox were perennial underdogs fighting the Evil Empire. I know that’s partly a myth, but we BoSox fans are pretty invested in that particular myth.)  So I was tempted to cheer for Butler’s Bulldogs.

But I can’t help admiring Duke’s Coach K.  Here’s why…

In my line of work, I talk often with leaders about their goals.  In my experience, they fall into three main groups:

  • “I just want to make the numbers” leaders.  These leaders see themselves as very results-oriented.  They pay little attention to how goals are achieved. They simply want to hit them. (By the way, I’m not implying that they are are unprincipled.  They just see little value in focusing on how’s.)  Think of them as leaders who want to win a game.
  • “I want to build a winning team” leaders.  These leaders pay attention to both outcomes and process. They see the opportunity to make something special with the group around them – to do something remarkable that will be noticed and talked about for some time.  Think of them as leaders who want to build a championship team.
  • “I want to build a program” leaders.  These leaders still pay attention to outcomes.  But they are out to do something much more than make the numbers.  They are obsessed with creating a self-perpetuating system that creates good and great teams year after year.  The organization has traditions and practices that attract, develop, and churn out like-minded people who have been indelibly marked by the program.  Think of them as leaders who want to build a dynasty.

That’s why I admire Coach K.  Like other great leaders before him (dare I say, even the hated Yankees), he has created system that produces excellence year after year.  No, they don’t win the championship every year, but it’s rare that Duke is horrible.

Certain factors conspire against any leader even setting out to build a dynasty.  Publicly traded companies face the quarterly gauntlet of analysts.  Compensation plans tend to run on an annual basis.  Organizations have little tolerance for even momentary performance blips.  But I still admire the leaders who look to the long-term and put in place the hard and soft infrastructure required for a dynasty.

What are you building?