The Carolina Way: Leadership Lessons From a Life in Coaching by Dean Smith

Summary
  1. A detailed overview of University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith’s philosophy. One of the best books on leadership I’ve yet come across
Key Takeaways
  1. Smith gave his players the same 3 goals each year – play hard, play together, play smart as these were the only things each player had in their own control
    1. Play hard – Insist on consistent effort. Focus on the effort and the end will take care of itself. The final result, especially in a competitive situation, is often outside your control, but the quality of your team’s effort is not. Create a system that demands effort, rewards it, and punishes its absence
    2. Play together – Play unselfishly. Don’t focus on individual statistics. Recruit unselfish players, reward unselfish play and punish selfish play and showboating
    3. Play smart – Execute properly. Understand and consistently execute the fundamentals. Drill the fundamentals, reward their execution and punish their absence
  2. Making winning the goal can actually get in the way of winning. Rather, winning should be the byproduct of success
  3. Honesty was the basic foundation for everything Coach Smith did
  4. Coaches are part benevolent (open-minded) dictator and part servant to the player. Honest and fair and plays no favorites. Pushes but understands different situations. Disciplinarian but understands that all individuals are not the same. Requires people to look at team goals but he understands that individuals have their own goals and needs too. Listens to players in one-on-one meetings and hears suggestions but when it comes time to approve the overall picture, he must be a firm leader with a clear vision and strong convictions
  5. His players worked so hard because they saw that he worked harder than any of them did. Coach Smith made players feel good about sacrificing for the greater good – power of incentives and rewards
  6. His philosophy didn’t allow for a star system. It was all about the team
  7. Great leaders take the blame for losses and dole out credit for victories
    1. Blaming others for mistakes not only doesn’t correct it, but compounds it
  8. Believed in following a process rather than dwelling on winning or worrying about consequences
  9. Genuinely cared about his players – Honesty, integrity, discipline administered fairly, not playing favorites, recruiting the right people, effective practice and training, and caring are foundations that any organization would be wise to have in place. The most important thing in good leadership is truly caring
  10. The most effective leaders have the talent to create a sound strategy for their teams or business; knowledge of the importance of recruiting good people who wish to improve their personal skills and believe in the companies’ or teams’ philosophy; understand that whether they like it or not, they lead by example; belief in the importance of being light enough on their feet to adapt to changing conditions; and the ability to honor their commitments, admit their mistakes and take responsibility for their failures
  11. Rituals help greatly in team building
  12. Constant iteration and experimentation at Air Force Academy was a great learning experience for Smith. This type of risk appetite was natural to Smith at this time because he was new, young and had nothing to lose. Not falling into the trap of complacency as one gets older and more successful is vital
  13. Tore down freshmen to break habits and then built them back up as team leaders
  14. Never had the same team two years in a row but was still so consistently successful! Disguise weaknesses and accentuate strengths and always adapt based on personnel. Didn’t fear change even in the middle of the season
    1. His coaching system was that he had no system because each team was different
  15. Aimed for players to be quietly confident, it must be earned
  16. Getting to the top is very difficult, staying there is even harder. You prepare for that pressure through deliberate practice
  17. Never allowed anyone but players and the coaching staff into the locker room. This created a space of total trust and love where everyone could be open and honest with each other in the midst of competition
  18. Map is not the terrain. They had their own statistics that they followed and praised
  19. Basketball is simply an extension of Smith’s philosophy of life
  20. Keep poise and have options when things go poorly
  21. Mistakes – recognize it, admit it, learn from it, forget it
  22. Fundamentals of basketball are the fundamentals of good character, of life. Many of the same skills are necessary for success regardless of the endeavor you choose
  23. Best leaders are absolutely devoted to their people
  24. Winning should simply be thought of as a byproduct of the process. This is the best way to win as it gets you in a healthy frame of mind
  25. Nation’s leading scorer rarely plays for a ranked team and never for a championship team
  26. Good businesses tend to die because senior leaders lose touch with the outside world, the important stakeholders. Executives spend too much time working and not enough time thinking. They should delegate more to create more. Work on the important things first; your people and their skills are the important things
  27. Don’t let winning get you to overlook mistakes – process over outcome
  28. Sole focus on winning (profits) actually leads to lower chance of winning
  29. Crises bring each of us face to face with our inadequacies
  30. Skill of being a gracious loser is vital for leaders. Must see an opportunity in every loss
  31. Part method teaching – can better understand whole if it is broken down into smaller, manageable parts
  32. Hiring well makes managing easy
  33. If treated correctly and this advice followed, players become the best recruiters
  34. People will only change when they see it will benefit them
  35. If the hard work is also fun, performance will be enhanced greatly
  36. Must first provide first rate employee experience before can get first rate customer experience
  37. There is a real strength derived from depending on one another
  38. Avoid the formation of cliques at all costs
  39. High performing teams – individual peak performance, selflessness, high morale, no fear of failure, mutual care and support
  40. Specific coaching and understanding of role is vital – also what one’s role is not
  41. Never substitute because of a player’s mistakes – would lead to scared playing and public embarrassment
  42. Teamwork hard to build because of society’s fascination with individual success and the emphasis it places on winning no matter how it is achieved
  43. Smith was a master at tailoring his teaching method to each individual
  44. Never underestimate the power of appreciation
  45. Smith institute the tired signal with his players – this made them play all out until they needed a quick break. To overwork is to underperform
  46. Everyone is important
  47. Take care of the small things without getting bogged down by minutiae – punctuality, no swearing, clean and matching uniforms, no scoreboard gazing (worry about the process and not the outcome and stay in the present), hyper focused on end of game situations, set the pace by being the aggressor, not the reactor,
    1. Great leaders are adept at identifying and tending to the crucial details. The smartest use of their time, effort and money is to spend far more of them in the planning stages than one thinks necessary
  48. One-on-one meetings very important as it opens up the lines of communication, builds trust and shows you care
  49. One of the best ways to teach is for all leaders and workers to mentor younger associates. Solve for problem of not getting to it after retiring or because too busy by doing your teaching on the job
  50. Success is the byproduct of intelligent, sustained effort
  51. People accept punishment if it is fair and consistent
  52. On confidence
    1. Think through what the worst possible outcome could be concerning the project being worked on
    2. Predict the probability of that worst-case scenario’s happening
    3. Develop a plan to implement if the worst does occur
    4. If the worst outcome becomes reality, assess whether it can be survived
    5. Once the task begins, give the best possible performance. Since that’s all anyone can do, enjoy the challenge
    6. If failure results, learn from it, forgive yourself and move on to the next task
  53. On continuous learning
    1. Most people say best learning experiences come from mistakes by why wait? A smarter strategy is to learn on a continuous basis from daily events. Each lesson might be a small one, but soon the lessons will accumulate to become something meaningful and important in your life
    2. Achiever’s Brain Book – an accessible notebook to write in throughout the day. In spare minutes write down key things you’ve learned and at the end of the day add the three major experiences of the day (decisions, projects worked on, meetings attended, interactions) Analyze what was done in those three instances and what the impacts or consequences were. Then establish actions based on what you’ve learned that will positively affect your future behavior
    3. The key to continuous learning is to articulate one’s inarticulate knowledge. Do it continuously, draw lessons from daily experiences. Lessons don’t arrive on command, but you can budget a little time in your life to step back and get the perspective that leads to insight
  54. Don’t waste time looking back. Learn from mistakes/regrets, make sure they never happen again and spend time planning what’s next
  55. Importance of change – Smith’s success came partly from his ability to adapt and change better than anyone else. He knew where to place his players on the court to get the most of each man’s ability. Leaders should select for their team’s individuals who have proved capacity to change (curiosity, listen well to ideas different from their own, humble, resilient, test new ideas, willing to admit they’re wrong?)
  56. The importance of the bottom half of the roster – often one of the hardest things is finding the right kind of leader to be the 11th and 12th men on the team. In the best of worlds, these two would know in advance that they wouldn’t play much but would work hard in practice and meetings to make the team better
What I got out of it
  1. Focus obsessively on process and things you can control, the most important thing in high performing teams is genuine caring, constant iteration, adaptation and non-dogmatic ideals are needed when you have a different team every year!, Achiever’s Brain Book