Imagine that you’re now responsible for a group of people that are super talented and highly experienced, some of which are even more experienced and senior than you. Maybe some of them don't feel like they actually report to you.

Yet you need to bind this team together to achieve an outcome, to achieve greatness.

What do you do to get everybody on the same page and pulling together? How do you get everybody to buy in?

This is the situation that Coach K, Mike Krzyzewski, was in when he was coaching the USA Men's Olympic Basketball Team in 2016. Not only was Coach K leading a team of NBA all-stars including LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, he was also under the glare of national news cameras, and the team was expected to win.

While most of us won’t be facing quite as much pressure as Coach K, there are three things he did that we can all learn from and apply in our own leadership situations.

1. Build Relationships

The first thing is to build relationships with each of those team members. That means having conversations with them one-on-one to understand their aspirations and ideas as well as their challenges and concerns.

Find out what success would look like for them and see if you can design a way forward that's going to help them achieve their aspirations, as well as those of the team.

2. Establish Standards, Not Rules

Having rules and regulations means you’ll have to enforce them when someone inevitably crosses the line. And being the enforcer is a tricky task, especially with very experienced, very talented people.

So here's where Coach K's idea of setting standards is much better. That’s because he believes people don’t own rules, but they will own standards.

In Coach K's case, he started by proposing two standards. One being to look each other in the eye when we're speaking to each other. And the second being to always tell the truth. Then he got everybody on the team to agree to live by those standards.

He then crowdsourced that set of standards by inviting the rest of the team to come up with standards they wanted to add.

You don't have to come up with the standards all by yourself. In fact, it's better if you don't come up with all of them. You want to have the entire team sit together to come up with and agree to the standards. And then everybody's bought into them because they've helped create them and everybody can help enforce them.

3. Leverage the Talent in the Room

The third thing that Coach K did that you and I can do as well is to leverage the talent in the room. In that prior example about setting standards, Coach K asked the players what kind of standards they wanted to set with each other. He drew on the wisdom in the room.

We can take that a step further and recognize that the great thing about leading a team of highly experienced and talented people is they “know stuff”. You could be bringing out their knowledge, drawing out their expertise, and using it for the benefit of the team and the bigger mission.

When you do that, your very talented team members will feel seen and heard, and also appreciated.

You could also use individual people on your team to bounce ideas around with. Not only will those conversations be useful for you, those team members will likely feel even more valued, engaged and bought-in.

When all of those things are true, you’re likely to be seen as a more effective and confident leader. That’s a really great thing for you, for the team, and for the organization.


When you need to get your team of talented individuals to cooperate and act in concert to achieve an important goal, remember these three lessons from Coach K. They apply more broadly, no matter what kind of team you’re leading.

So take a look at how you’re leading your team:

  • To what extent are you building relationships of trust and respect?
  • Where do you stand on establishing standards as a group?
  • And how are you leveraging the talent you have around the table or in the room?

Taking these three steps will serve you well as a leader. The key is to put them into practice.

Which one of these three steps would most help you in leading your team?

Leave a comment and let me know.