7 Leadership Lessons from Bob Knight

Leadership Consultant Bill Morosco with Bob Knight at a Chicago coaching clinic last week.

Leadership Consultant Bill Morosco with Bob Knight at a Chicago coaching clinic last week.

By Bill Morosco (Florida)

Bob Knight has over 900 career wins, three national championships, five Final Four appearances, an Olympic gold medal and a Naismith College Coach of the Year award. Though Coach Knight is most known for his demanding approach, pin-point motion offense and prolonged success in 40 years of coaching, his success on the hardwood relied on his talent for teaching leadership to 18 to 23-year-olds – a skill that begs for parallels to fraternity leadership.

I had the opportunity to interact and learn from the legendary Indiana University coach last weekend at the Nike Championship Basketball Clinic in Chicago. While the clinic focused on the fundamentals of coaching basketball, the sessions also gave me a chance to observe up close how Coach Knight teaches leadership and gets the most from his teams.

1. Involve Everyone

During Coach Knight’s practices, he made sure everyone participated, be it the All-American, the 12th man off the bench, or even the lowly team managers he would ask to miss shots (whether they missed intentionally or unintentionally, we will never know). Coach Knight made everyone feel involved, engaged and valuable.

At your chapter, everyone can bring something useful to the table; make sure you are able to take advantage of that. If your chapter has a few guys who may not be the best recruiters, have them help run the logistics of each recruiting event like picking up the food or reserving event spaces.

 2. Make Practice Harder Than The Game

Coach Knight highlighted several practice drills he used over the years to prepare his teams for success. Most of them had one common theme: make practice harder than the game so the game seems easy. Often times he would scrimmage 4-on-6 or 5-on-7.

Apply this idea to the events and goals your chapter prepares for throughout the year. Leave nothing in doubt with documentation for Pursuit of Excellence. Practice mock conversations during recruitment events; anticipate all the questions a prospective member might ask about. Walk into the Greek Week competition knowing you’re going to win because you put in the practice time.

 3. Practice Thinking

Coach Knight believes that basketball is as much mental as it is physical. Many of his coaching techniques revolve around making his players think. Sometimes this involves yelling “Change!” and making both teams switch from offense to defense immediately and recover into proper position. Coach Knight will also deliver lengthy instructions in sequence to see if the team can follow his orders. Sometimes he even practices calling timeout and asks his players to recite back to him what he said. You would be surprised how few could give him back the correct instructions.

Facilitate, delegate and empower. Don’t just give orders, let your chapter members work out solutions and practice their own problem solving skills instead of depending on yours. Let the committee system work.

 4. Keep It Simple

Coach Knight mentioned that he believes there are two types of coaches: coaches who try to surprise and change what they do and coaches who keep it simple and execute what they do. Coach Knight affirmed confidently that he is a believer in the latter. Do what you do well, and if you can’t do it well, don’t do it.

It would be easy to interpret this coaching trait as an affirmation of old school tradition in place of experimentation and innovation. But what Coach Knight is saying here has more to do with focusing on your core purpose and avoiding those temptations that don’t have much if anything to do with fraternity. At minimum, fraternities must do fraternity exceptionally well. Organizational excellence cannot be achieved by groups that stray from the reason they exist in the first place.

 5. Eliminate Mistakes

Coach Knight says basketball isn’t a game you win, it’s a game you lose. His approach to success focusses on eliminating mistakes and committing fewer errors than the opponent.

Your chapter can excel by avoiding unforced errors, too Turn in documentation, yearly review programs, and awards application on time and with all needed information. Don’t set your chapter back – or worse, endanger the safety of members and guests – by making poor decisions surrounding risk reduction. The other chapters on campus are going to make mistakes; the chapter that keeps it between the lines and focuses on achieving their goals will end up miles ahead of every other group.

 6. Don’t Micromanage

Coach Knight talked about the importance of respecting his players and allowing them to make decisions. On any decisions he felt weren’t crucially important, he allowed the team to make. This could be deciding between practice at 9:00 a.m. or noon, or if they wanted to eat out or order in. Helping the team feel like a part of the decision making process builds trust and confidence.

Allowing all of the members to participate in the decision making process is just as important for a fraternity. Ask the chapter to participate in the Pursuit of Excellence self-assessment. Letting them suggest goals for the chapter to work towards will build trust and strengthen buy-in as the year moves on.

 7. Be Demanding

Lastly, Coach Knight says “Great coaches are demanding coaches.” If you expect excellence, then you must demand excellence.

If your chapter has a vision and sets goals based on that vision, demand that they be accomplished. Do not tolerate failure. Work and push to achieve the success you demand.


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