Bobby Knight talks leadership at TRALA Annual Meeting

Updated Apr 11, 2018

As you may have guessed, Bobby Knight’s obsession with winning didn’t begin when he took his first coaching job. As keynote speaker at the 40th annual Truck Renting and Leasing Association (TRALA) Annual Meeting Tuesday in Scottsdale, Ariz., Knight says he remembers being hungry to win when he was playing baseball at six years old. Walking out the door for his first game, Knight’s mother told him to remember that “somebody has to lose.”

Knight says he walked a few steps, paused to reflect on his mother’s words and determined that while someone has to lose, “it doesn’t have to be me.”

Now the third winningest men’s basketball coach in NCAA history (and the winningest at the point of his retirement) with 902 victories, it’s clear Knight’s desire to avoid losing worked out well for him.

During his presentation Tuesday, Knight shared with the TRALA audience eight key points he relied on during his career that allowed his team’s to be successful and win:

Eliminate how you can lose: Knight puts this first because it’s necessary in preparation, for basketball of business. “Understanding losing is really important,” he says. Leaders need to know what can go wrong so they can build strategies to avoid that.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions: Knight says this applies to leaders and their employees. Knowledge is power. Knight says he used the Five Ws and How as much as possible as a coach to better understand each game and situation. He also encouraged players to ask questions when they were confused, and never hesitated to ask questions of them when they appeared to have an idea or statement they wanted to make.

Have the will to prepare to win: Winning is more than desire. It takes legwork. Similar to his first point, Knight says leaders must be willing to dedicate time to preparation. A coach cannot expect his players to succeed if he hasn’t taught them about their opponent, Knight says, and running a business is the same.

Know your own team: For this one, Knight references the popular leadership quote: “We have identified the enemy, and they is us.” He says leaders and coaches must understand the dynamics of their team and areas where potential internal issues could arise.

Know your own capabilities: Knight says he had some players he told not to shoot. That wasn’t their job or strength. They were defenders, rebounders, etc. When the goal is winning the game, or succeeding in business, leaders must know what their team members do well and put the right people in the right roles.

The person in charge must be in charge: This is straight leadership, Knight says. Being an authority figure. Players and employees need to know that when a leader makes a decision, that the decision is final. Questions about how to implement a decision are good, he says, but questions about that decision or actions that undermine a decision are unacceptable.

Be aware of the moment of success: Though he didn’t quite say to enjoy the moment, Knight says it is important for leaders and their teams to recognize when things go well, and why they go well. Being in the moment allows team to understand what is necessary to them to be successful again in the next game or project.

We’re not all alike: This is a variation on Knight’s comment about knowing one’s capabilities. He says good leaders “have to know different people can do different things.” Employees should be put into positions where they can succeed, and good leaders need the skill to be able to identify where a person’s talent is best utilized within their organization.

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