As I have visited with leaders across the state, I have noted how many of them reference the influence of their experiences in sports; and in particular, the impact their coaches had on their character and success. I personally believe that the best leadership model is to be a great coach. Great coaches know how to get the most out of each player on their team, and how to align a group towards a common goal. I have enjoyed books by winning coaches like Tony Dungy, Mike Krzyzewski and John Wooden, who have written best-sellers on leadership.
I had the recent opportunity to visit with coach Richard Duease, who has established a remarkable track record of success in his 36 years of coaching. Since coming to Madison Ridgeland Academy in 1982, his high school boys basketball team has averaged 29 wins a year, been in the state overall tournament 27 of the last 29 years and won the last five straight state overall championships. Whether in sports or business, I am always curious to learn how people are successful over long periods. Putting together a great season is one thing, but building a great winning career is a completely different level of success. Duease grew up in Indianola with two hard working parents who owned and operated department stores. He had an older brother who was eight years his senior who Duease noted “taught me how to play sports and be competitive.He would take me out and work on my skills whether I wanted to or not!” Even though Duease was a multi-sport athlete, his passion was basketball. During junior college where he played football, basketball and tennis, he ended up injuring his knee and breaking his arm, which ended his own athletic career. He transferred to Mississippi State University where he studied business, but ultimately majored in physical education.
Upon graduation, he told his parents he would try coaching for one year. Well, as they say, “the rest is history.” That one year which started at Manchester Academy, has turned into a 36 coaching career. With such a winning record, he has had the opportunity to coach at different levels, but he made a conscious decision when his daughter was young that he did not want to have a career which would cause him to be on the road all of the time and to be away from his young family. As we discussed the parallels in sports and business success, I came away with some clear ideas of how he has been so successful.
The old adage is true — “People don’t care what you know, unless they know that you care.” Great leaders have relationships with their team members. Leaders want not just the minimum efforts from their team, but also their “discretionary effort.” People don’t give their discretionary effort for leaders that they don’t believe in. Successful leaders take the time to get to know their team members and are genuinely interested in their individual development.
As Coach Duease said to me, “My players know that I care about them and that I will treat them fairly.”
Master the Fundamentals
Great leaders know the importance of executing on the basics. Team members are able to operate in the “zone” in sports and business when they are able to operate with “unconscious competence.” This only comes from repetition and hard work. In speaking with some of the MRA star players, Coach Duease’s practices are tough! Coach Duease emphasized to me, “I work on a lot on the fundamentals, and we do work hard in practice so everyone is prepared for game day.” In reality, unless you win the lottery, there are no shortcuts to success. Many people can “talk the talk” of success, but very few are willing to actually do the hard work to “walk the walk.”
Coach Duease teaches his players to be mentally tough and to “refuse to lose.” Great leaders exhibit perseverance that is inspiring to their team. There are always going to be challenges along the way. Life is not easy, and how we deal with adversity shapes our future. There are countless stories like Harland Sanders (a/k/a Colonel Sanders) of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame who experienced hundreds of rejections before achieving success. Many of our greatest successes come on the heels of our greatest trials. As Winston Churchill famously said during the darkest days of World War II, “Never give in, never give in, never; never; never; never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.” It takes courage to persevere. In sports and business, we put ourselves on the line and have to face victory and defeat. Great leaders help us summons our own inner strength to continue and fight on.
Mississippi has a great tradition of athletic achievement, and we are fortunate to have many notable coaches. I am sure there will be many leaders of tomorrow who will have been shaped by the life lessons learned under the tutelage of Coach Duease and leaders like him.
Coach Richard Duease
Title: Athletic director, Madison Ridgeland Academy
Favorite Books: Leadership books on John Wooden; Bible
First Job: “When I was nine years old I started working in the family store. My pay for the day was however many quarters I could grab out of the register with one hand.”
Proudest Moment as a Leader: “Winning a state championship for the first time is a great experience. I will never forget winning a girls state championship when I was at Clarksdale Lee Academy. I also remember the first time that the MRA high school boys beat their arch rival Jackson Prep.”