The Carolina Way: Leadership Lessons from a Life in Coaching

Normally I write short reviews of every book I read grouped together by month. Since I’ve been busy lately, though, I haven’t done one of those monthly roundups since March. Now the prospect of writing several monthly roundups is becoming daunting, so I will try to post short reviews of each book as I have time to write them.

When I was growing up in North Carolina, it was hard to not be aware of college basketball. There are a lot of great teams in the area, and people can be quite emotionally invested in their favorite teams. Though I did not have a personal connection to the University of North Carolina, I did root for their basketball team. A big part of the reason for that was my admiration for their long-time coach, Dean Smith.

This book, which Smith wrote a few years after he retired in 1997, is his attempt to reflect on what he learned about leadership during his 36 years of coaching at UNC. Each chapter consists of Smith’s reflections on a particular topic (for example, “Why Unselfishness Works”), followed by reflections from some of Smith’s former players on that same topic. The players are usually ones who have spent time in the business world, and they talk about the influence Smith has had on the way they live and work. The chapter then closes with a reflection on that topic geared toward the realm of business written by Gerald Bell, a consultant and professor at UNC’s business school.

What Smith taught his basketball teams boiled down to three main principles: play smart, play together, and play hard. He rarely talked about winning, he writes, because winning was out of his team’s control. He wanted his players to focus on execution, and the outcome would take care of itself.

In reading this book, I learned a lot about Smith and what made him so successful. He has strong opinions, and they are part of what made the book entertaining. For example, he called tardiness “the height of arrogance,” because you are saying that your time is more important than someone else’s. I’d recommend this book to anyone with an interest in leadership, teaching or college basketball.