Near the end of Duke’s Sweet 16 victory over Texas Tech, Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski), one of the winningest coaches in college basketball history listened to his players – who asked him to let them change from zone defense to play “man to man.”  He agreed and Duke went on to win and, after beating Arkansas and will play in tonight’s Final Four matchup vs. North Carolina.

Think about that for a moment – Coach K has been coaching college ball for 48 years – that’s more than five times the combined college basketball experience of his starting five players.  By listening to his players and changing his mind, he exhibited an extraordinary level of confidence in himself and his young team.

Last Thursday, March 31st, was the 30th anniversary of the launch of AIR MILES Canada by The Loyalty Group (later the LoyaltyOne division of Alliance Data Systems and now Loyalty Ventures, Inc) – which went on to create thousands of jobs, enroll over 70% of Canadian households as reward program members and was recognized as one of the most respected brands in the country, and a best company to work (also best for women and diversity).  Although I had the honor to serve as the company’s founder and first CEO – the credit for the company’s success goes to the extraordinary team members who created Loyalty and AIR MILES’  incredible growth and numerous awards and recognition.

I also know that listening to those who worked with me during my 8-year tenure as CEO was a key to our early success.  Their feedback changed my mind and decisions on several occasions.  One of the most memorable was how we allocated the financial reward shared with all of our team members when we sold Loyalty to Alliance Data Systems.  I convinced my fellow shareholders to contribute 10% of the sales price to a bonus pool.  My original idea was to give all employees who didn’t have options in the company an equal share of the pool.  Until Claudio Rodrigues – a member of our Senior Management Team who went on to become a successful entrepreneur and business leader himself – came to me and suggested a much better formula – one that REWARDED LOYALTY.


At the all-employee meeting, when we announced the sale of the company, I was able to also announce that everyone working at Loyalty on that day would get $92 for each month they had worked.  I asked the six new employees who started that month to stand up, saying, “Congratulations – you each will receive a $92 bonus.”  I could see most everyone doing the mental math – our longest-tenured and most loyal employees would soon receive over $8,000!

A quick scan of some of the most popular lists of “characteristics of great leaders” failed to find “listening to your team” in any of them.  Maybe that’s one of the reasons Coach K has been a head coach for 38 years, while the average corporate CEO tenure is 6.9 years.

As Vashti Hurt wrote on the Carolina Blitz sports website:

Listening sounds like a simple concept, but it isn’t always the easiest thing, especially when you have the years of experience under your belt that K does. But in that moment, at that time, that’s exactly what he did and that’s why he has over 1,200 wins. That’s why he has five National Championships. That’s why he has three Gold Medals. That’s why he’s the GOAT.

Here’s a link to Coach K talking about his decision to trust his players.

 Please share examples of how listening to your team members helped you make better decisions.