Books for software engineers and managers

Beyond Basketball

Beyond Basketball

Coach K’s Keywords for  Success

by Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K), Head Coach of Duke Men's  Basketball

Engineering Manager

How strongly do I recommend Beyond Basketball?
7 / 10

Review of Beyond Basketball

John Wooden encouraged us to study greatness and Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) is arguably the greatest college basketball coach in history.

Beyond Basketball provides lessons in leadership useful for every engineering manager and leader.

Winners expect to  win

Look at your team and ask yourself, “Who expects to win?”

That’s the heart of a champion. The opposite is learned helplessness or complacency.

Right-sized your drills and  approach

Right-sizing your drills and approach works on two levels.

First, you need drills appropriate for the team you have. If your team struggles with code quality, focus your book club and conversations on code quality. But don’t apply that same exercise to a team struggling on a different problem. In other words, prove your adaptability as a manager.

Second, you need an approach for each player. Coach K, John Wooden, and Phil Jackson all talk about treating stars differently and why.

In The Last Dance on Netflix, Phil Jackson describes his specific approach to getting the most out of Dennis Rodman, which included things like letting him go to Vegas for a long weekend to blow off steam.

Coach K and John Wooden explain that the drills and handholding their bench players need look very different from the drills assigned to stars like Grant Hill or Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

While this distinction is important, each coach also prevents differences from ruling the team. For instance, Coach K benched superstar Elton Brand for two games to trigger a much needed mental reset and deliver focus.

Look each other in the  eye

When you’re talking to someone, look them in the eye. This small tip resolves a lot of the communication gaps that arise within teams, particularly in contentious conversations.

Imagine great things

Empower your team to imagine great things. Don’t just give them permission to dream big, require it. That’s what Coach K did with Shane Battier, turning him from a role player with great potential into the National Player of the Year.

As a leader, I routinely use 1:1s to talk with each engineer about the future. What does it look like for our team, our technology, our company, our customers?

A similar question is asked in The E-Myth Revisited and The Making of a Manager, where you’re encouraged to think about the end game and what your team and company looks like if you’re wildly successful.

Nurture bonds between  teammates

For you to scale as a manager, the bonds between teammates need to be as strong as the bonds between yourself and individual contributors.

Intentionally create opportunities for teammates to form bonds.

Never fear the result of your best  effort

I’ve never regretted trying my hardest so that’s how I approach my work.

Giving your best effort is hard for many people. They’re afraid to fail. They fear embarrassment. What happens if I try my hardest and it’s not good enough?

As an engineering manager, use your 1:1s to ask your engineers a question, “What does your best effort look like?”

Get tangible. The picture of best effort needs to be clear and where your employee has gaps, fill them in with what you’ve seen during their best times.

Beyond Basketball