Coach K’s Fist

Five Fingers Make a Fist: Leading From the Heart

By

Leonard Zwelling

            All
organizations work best when they work like a well-disciplined, well-trained
athletic team. For the last 30 years in men’s college basketball the
organization and team most admired and most resented by the rest of the NCAA is
the Duke Blue Devils. They are admired for their tenacity and ability to win (4
national championships over 20 years; 1991, 1992, 2001, 2010). They are
resented because they win with a bit of a chip on their shoulder. Some call it
arrogance. Others cockiness. Others confidence, but in the end what the team
reflects is the philosophy of the leader. That leader is Coach Mike Krzyzewski,
the tough as nails West Pointer who steered the Blue Devils to all of those championships.

            Coach
K is a frequent motivational speaker and actually teaches in the Fuqua School
of Business at Duke. His success derives from no secret formula as his book,
Leading From the Heart describes, but from 5 core values: communication, trust,
collective responsibility, caring and pride. These five principles serve as the
fingers of a fist of strength and determination that he demands from all his
players and assistants down to the equipment people. These five principles are
the basis of his teams’ success. Each player, each person on the team is
valued. Each individual has a job. And interestingly, not one of Coach K’s
graduates (and most of his players graduate from a school without a PE major)
has been a big NBA star although Grant Hill, Carlos Boozer and Shane Battier
have made an impact. The Duke basketball program is built on team success. The
only award they pursue is the national championship. Individual accolades mean
nothing unless the team wins.

            We
at MD Anderson have three core values: integrity, caring and discovery. It is
presumed that the broad application of these values will get us to our goal:
making cancer history. Obviously, the Duke goal of a national championship has
proven less illusive than a cancer cure. Perhaps it is because in the case of
MD Anderson we have the wrong goal and are not following our core values,
something that Duke has amply demonstrated they have completely right.

            I
have frequently written of my dislike for our too clever by half logo of
“Making Cancer History” for we surely haven’t yet, are unlikely to do so in the
next 5 years, and it is no way to send everyone home each day asking how well
they have contributed to the reaching of the goal. I still like “fighting
cancer” as that can be done in a multitude of ways and everyone here can
contribute from those volunteering throughout the hospital to those in the
operating room.

            One
needs to go no further than the newspaper to see how far we have drifted from
our core values. The leadership of Anderson for the past few decades has
exemplified anything but integrity from misguided adventures on corporate
boards, to self-dealing, to nepotism and over-spending on furniture, our
leadership has taken the arrogance that Duke is accused of embodying to a new
level. And are we demonstrating integrity taking funds from foreign governments
of questionable ethics to build new research space that we probably don’t need
given the shrinking NIH budget?

            Caring
is the value that appears both on Coach K’s list and on MD Anderson’s. I truly
believe that this is one principle that MD Anderson exemplifies with the
behavior of all the clinicians and clinical personnel. We felt it when Dr.
Kleinerman was a patient. While it may not be part of our executives’
comportment as I will be the first to attest to, it is still at the heart of
the faculty and staff. The leadership should try to demonstrate as much caring
in their interactions with the faculty as that faculty does dealing with its
patients. The seemingly non-stop stream of Provost-launched emails describing
the next faculty leader to depart a chair role followed by the naming of an
internal candidate as the successor of the “stepped-down” leader does not
demonstrate caring at all. It demonstrates the exact opposite—and that’s not
malevolence. That’s indifference.

            As
for discovery, it is very hard for me to accept that the best route for an
academic center to make a real impact on the cancer problem is via the creation
of a drug company within its walls and going it alone with little cooperation
with other academic centers of excellence in the Texas Medical Center.
Discovery is discovery. Commercialization is commercialization. One depends on
the other, but we are clearly good at the first and have limited skills yet at
the second. Why are we spending so much in the wrong place?

            It
is far easier to put the pieces together to win a national basketball
championship than it is to create a huge cancer center that successfully
impacts this scourge on all of mankind. But the fact of the matter is that MD
Anderson had done just that for years, including contributing to the
commercialization of many successful cancer treatments long before IACS cast a
shadow across the South Campus. There are several faculty members who have
developed real drugs and devices that have furthered the prevention, detection
and treatment of cancer. None of these people work in IACS. Are we going into a
slump because we lost track of our core values?

            I
think that we have to get back to our first principles. If you read Coach K’s
book you will learn how he had some very difficult times when he confused what
was best for him with what was best for the Duke basketball program. Through a
great deal of introspection and assistance from some fine physicians at the
Duke Medical Center, he found his center again, returned the Devils to the
winner’s circle and found joy in his life.

            We
need to do that here. Let’s pursue the real goal using our three core values.
It’s crunch time. We are down by 10 with three to play. At Duke, we would say
we got ‘em just where we want ‘em.

            Rip
‘em up, tear ‘em up, give ‘em hell Duke!

            What
about at MD Anderson?  

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