By John Monroe

How does love fit into the world of business… or doesn’t it? This is what I was pondering as I watched Mike Krzyzewski, better known as Coach K, in his final men’s basketball game at Duke University. There are so many correlations between sports coaches and business leaders. What drives a great coach to stay in the same job for 42 years? Could it be the same thing that drives business leaders to give everything they have for their company and coworkers? And could that driving force be love?

After the game, the university held a special ceremony to honor Coach K and his family. Note I said family. Coach K had his three daughters, 10 grandchildren, and Mickie, his wife of 53 years, out on the court with him. At one point during his speech to the audience, he turned to his family and said, “It would be so easy for my three daughters to say, ‘You love basketball more than me,’ but it simply wouldn’t be true. I love my basketball teams, but I love you all just as much.” He then turned to the 140 past players he had coached at Duke who were there for the ceremony and said, “I hope you all know this brotherhood we have will always last.” Finally, he turned to the current team that had just lost the game to their biggest arch enemy UNC Chapel Hill on Duke’s home court, on Coach K’s final night, and said, “I know you don’t think so right now, but I love you guys.”

Coaching for the love of it

Coach K was expressing a lot of love for both his immediate family and his extended basketball brotherhood (work family). When Coach K talked about love for his players, I imagine there were some listeners wincing at his choice of words because of the news about sports trainers and coaches having inappropriate relationships with athletes. I applaud Coach K for the use of love with his work family. In doing so, I thought he was expressing respect and admiration for his players.

My wife, Katie, coached high school swimming for many years, despite the fact that not one of our four children was on the team. She would get up at an ungodly hour every day or work late at night analyzing split times and putting lineups together. She would spend countless hours on the pool deck correcting swimmers’ strokes and breathing off the wall. Why? Because just like Coach K and basketball, she loved each swimmer and loves the sport of swimming.

Coach K says there are five fundamental values a team must have to work together: caring, communication, collective responsibility, trust, and pride. Isn’t this what a couple or a family unit also exhibits in a loving relationship?

Love in the workplace

Why do we avoid the word love as a core value in the workplace? Most leaders struggle with the soft skills because they fear that caring is a sign of weakness and that their team will not respect them. Most leaders feel they must maintain the reputation of a hard-core manager who is a strategist and more interested in measurable metrics than an employee’s emotional balance, intellectual growth, and physical health.

How can a business leader who has passion for their business exhibit love for their employees like the love Coach K and Coach Katie exhibited for their athletes?

Write it down and live it often

I suggest you start by looking at your company culture. Do your mission and vision statements express Coach K’s fundamental values of a team? Do you use words that express caring, communication, collective responsibility, trust, and pride for your employees—not just your external customers? Is one of your core values the word love? At Violand Management we have the word love as a core value to remind us that we are serious about how important it is to our organization. It’s not enough to just talk about it. You must formalize it so your team holds each other accountable for their actions.

Build authentic relationships

In sales we talk about building relationships with potential clients, but with any relationship we must first gain the person’s trust. I know that Coach Katie took time on the bus while going to and from practice as an opportunity to connect with her swimmers. She would talk with each swimmer about their schoolwork, their family, and their relationships with friends. She would get to know them on a more personal level. Likewise, a leader must be authentic, humble, and purposeful to build trust with their employees.

Coach the wins and the losses

As the television camera scanned the audience, you could see in the facial expressions of the current players the disappointment that they had let down not only Coach K and each other but the brotherhood as well. Coach K telling his team that he was disappointed with the outcome of the game, but that he still loved them demonstrated he cares more about people than winning. Great coaches and great business leaders both understand that taking the time to work with their people and make a difference in a person’s life is more important than winning. These coaches create a team environment that allows their people to make mistakes and learn from them, while encouraging them to stretch their skills and capabilities. I imagine the players on Coach K’s team aren’t afraid to ask for help or to say they made a mistake because of the feedback-rich environment that celebrates failures as well as wins.

What is love?

At the age of 75, Coach K was still putting in the extra effort to coach with love and passion for the sport and for the Duke basketball brotherhood. His philosophy of “team first” made him one of the all-time greatest coaches in college basketball. He craved their success more than they did, had their best interests as his purpose for everything he made them do, and was always there for them. That was how he showed his love.


John Monroe is a Business Development Advisor for Violand Management Associates (VMA), a highly-respected consulting company in the restoration and cleaning industries. Monroe is a leading expert in marketing, sales and sales management for the restoration and cleaning industries with over 30 years of experience in those fields. Through Violand, Monroe works with companies to develop their people and their profits. To reach him, visit Violand.com or call 800-360-3513.