The power of leadership: what I learned from the Dukies


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On Monday night the final buzzer sounded and the Duke Blue Devils found themselves national champions once again. Coach K received a ring for his thumb and can now realistically enter the conversation of the “Greatest College Basketball Coach of All time.” Being a Duke fan, this was both a sweet and serendipitous championship. This team was great all year, but didn’t look like they had enough to cut down the nets. That’s the beauty about college sports, though–surprises are all around you.

Tyus Jones, a freshman, was awarded the POT (player of the tournament) Monday night after the win. He played beautifully, hitting clutch shots and basically carrying the team through much of the game. But there is an interesting relationship that made the team work at all this year. It had to do with a less flashy player who didn’t make big shots or win any accolades this season. This player was senior point guard Quinn Cook.

Cook had been the Devil’s starting point guard for the past two years. When Jones signed with Duke, Cook had to move over to shooting guard to make room for the freshman phenom. Cook and Jones had a special relationship that wasn’t built on competition, but out of mutual respect for one another and love for the team. Cook took a backseat so his team could win, even giving up his seat as the driving force of the offense. Easier said than done of course, but Cook committed himself to making it work in Durham, even convincing Jones before he officially signed with Duke that they wouldn’t have a problem. Cook’s word came true and now they have a national championship.

This is all the more significant when you realize that Cook is a player that might make it to the NBA. Maybe in the second round. Tyus Jones, however, will be a first round pick. It’s easy to see how that sort of thing could tear a team apart, causing friction or jealousy. But it didn’t. Both players bought in and victory arrived.

It makes you think about the way we do things. Naturally, people gravitate towards the spotlight, or at least towards the captain’s chair. I wonder, though, if more of us need to work together for the success of the team, not the elevation of the individual. Cook understood the power of teamwork, humility, and how far you can go if you’re willing to work together for the common goal.

More of our churches and schools and business need that kind of leadership. The kind where we model an attitude of ‘we is greater than me.’ We humbly take whatever position is best for us and say,  “It’s not about me; it’s about us and where we’re going.”

An African proverb captures this thought perfectly. The proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

At the end of the day, aren’t we more concerned with going far than going fast? Aren’t we more concerned with where we take our ministries and our teams?

Perhaps we can carry that metaphor onward, realizing that we are either one of many chess pieces moving the game forward, or a detriment that causes a stall. Let’s swallow our pride so we can lead better and go farther together.

This was a fantastic season of college basketball. There was much to appreciate and love.

Besides the ring, I love the great lesson on teamwork and self-less leadership that Duke taught me this season. That’s something we can all learn from.

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