Mike Krzyzewski of Duke broached the topic of managing egos as it related to his experience of guiding Team USA to a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics. He remarked that "as long as the ego is attached to a body that can support that ego," you can direct it. The bottom line is that you need talent to win.
To manage egos and prepare for competition, Coach K needed his team to buy in to a common purpose — in this case, winning the gold, winning respect back home and winning international respect. He accomplished this by sitting down individually with his players to set standards and gain commitment. He also emphasized that "leadership isn't singular; it is plural." Coach K depended on players like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Jason Kidd to help guide the team. They became the internal leaders that helped to disseminate the message, keep the focus and refuse to accept anything less than the best. These types of figures can be pivotal in motivating and developing your next wave of leaders.
USC coach Pete Carroll stated his firm belief that you have to find common ground when reaching out and developing players. Where have they come from? How are you going to connect to them? He strives to be clear about the purpose and mission, outlining a mission that is bigger than the individual players to help them succeed. "You have to communicate individually to bring them into the collective," he said, noting that each person is unique and needs to be approached differently.
Billy Beane of the Oakland A's was very candid about differentiating college from professional sports. In the professional ranks, the currency of respect is money. Beane spoke of balancing the need to run a business against the desire to win games, the present against the future. Money is by no means the ultimate motivator in sports, but plays a central role.
The panel also touched on the darker side of sports. Coach K expressed his concern that basketball players are now identified as potential stars at the junior high level, and they're being educated in monetary terms from an early age. This makes for a challenge in helping them develop into complete leaders.
Carroll remarked that college football is probably a bit more pure, but young players are consumed with the thought of going pro. A big challenge is to try and get players to stop thinking so far ahead and get them to want to challenge themselves, compete and put it all together right now. The rest will follow. Beane interjected that athletes are extremely competitive; they want to win. Trying to play this up and reinforce it can be one strategy for getting around this issue.
How hard is it become a champion? Coach K mused that there's "a big difference between being a winner and a champion." To become a championship team, you have to develop purpose and camaraderie that is highly intangible. Carroll focused on the mentality of continuous excellence, from which championships follow. He isn't just focused on winning, but also on the ability to stay on top and persevere.
Billy Beane countered a bit by saying that he believes the goal is putting yourself in situations with a high probability of winning. By focusing on that, he has been able to help the As win consistently, even with modest payrolls.