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March Madness: Showcasing great teams, leadership

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN AIR FORCE STATION, Colo. -- March Madness. A time for college basketball teams to Duke it out (pun intended) for the national championship. The consistent winners display the hallmarks of a great team. Selfless, dedicated and disciplined individuals (players and coaches) committed to performing their best and working together for their team to perform its best. All consistent with our great Air Force team and core values - Integrity first, Service before self and Excellence in all we do. No surprise that many great players and coaches come from a military upbringing, which instilled these values in them.

Duke's head coach Mike Krzyzewski, or Coach K as most know him, graduated from West Point and later returned as head basketball coach. With more than 1,000 career wins, the most of any coach in Men's Division 1 basketball, Coach K knows what it takes to lead and succeed, much of which he learned from West Point. Reflecting on his time at West Point, Coach K said it was the world's greatest leadership school as it taught how to bond units together and lead them into battle. Krzyzewski considers himself a leader who just happens to be a basketball coach. His coaching style offers many leadership lessons for building and sustaining a great team and reflects our core values.

Integrity first. His past and current players say his greatest attribute is his honesty, even if it's sometimes brutal honesty. Coach K relates, "Leaders instill respect for authority by being direct, by communicating regularly and by being honest. Confrontation simply means meeting the truth head on." Knowing how essential trust is to building and sustaining relationships, which is key to teamwork, Coach K said, "I tell business leaders that the first sign that you have a good team is the existence of trust. The team that trusts their leader and each other is a good team to lead and is more likely to be successful."

Service before self. As a passionate servant leader, Coach K builds relationships with each of his players to elicit their trust and commitment to the team and to be their best on and off the court in the interest of the team. As he builds a relationship with each of his players, he gets them to build relationships with each other in a culture of dignity and respect. His goal is for each player to focus on their teammates instead of themselves, and be interactive and empathetic. By doing so, his players get attuned to each other, fostering better communication, selflessness and bonding, all essential for the team to excel. His players don't want to let him or their team down. His credo is teamwork, which he conveys with a clinched fist metaphor. Five individual players (fingers) coming together as a team (fist) to harness the talent of all.

Excellence in all we do. Rather than focus on winning, Coach K focuses his players on performing the best they can. "Success is doing the best you can--all the time. As a result of that, you are able to define what success means to you. It's a real mistake to let others define your success," he said.

Imbued and guided by these values, his players and team excel on and off the court, just as our Air Force team does. Integrity, Service, Excellence! Go team!