The path-goal theory relies on the how a leader motivates their subordinates to accomplish the task before them. This theory evaluates the relationship of the leader’s style of leadership and the characteristics of the subordinate and how the two compliment or supplement each other to achieve the desired outcome. In the cases of Coach Knight and Coach Krzyzewski, both were achievement-oriented. They both had clear goals and expectations of their players, win the game. This is evident by both coaches high lifetime career win totals. They both set high standards that their players were expected to meet. Each team was put through a series of drills and practices to prepare them and help build their confidence to succeed. Coach Krzyzewski “invested heavily in drills and skills with his players, practicing set plays and exhaustively analyzing practices, game films, and strategies” (Snook, Perlow, & Delacey, 2005, p. 3).
The ability of both coaches to use achievement-oriented leadership contributed to their success. Each coach challenged and set high standards for their players. This raised the players’ confidence that they had the ability to achieve their goals. The achievement-oriented leadership demonstrated by each coach helped motivate the players to want to succeed. The leader-member exchange theory is a “process that is centered on the interactions between leaders and followers” (Northouse, 2013, p. 161). Two main groups of subordinates exist in the LMX model: the in-group and the out-group. Research found that there is a direct connection with high quality leader-member exchanges and job satisfaction and performance. Evaluating the leadership styles of Coach Knight and Coach Krzyzewski shows that there is evidence of the leader-member exchange theory in addition to the positive performance results that were indicated by the research of Dansereau (Northouse, 2013, p.162).
Building relationships is important to Coach Krzyzewski. The success of his team was built on the relationships he established with his players and making everyone part of the in-group. He uses his “high-quality leader-member exchanges” to increase the positive performance of his players. It is a standard practice among his players that when they talk to each other they look each other in the eye. This way they are honest and truthful with each other at all times. Coach K also stated he believed “people have to be given the freedom to show the heart they possess. I think it’s the leader’s responsibility to provide that type of freedom. And I believe it can be done through relationships and family. Because if a team is a real family, its members want to show their hearts” (Snook et al., 2005, p. 4). Coach Knight on the other hand was not as concerned about his relationship with his players. His demonstrated attitude was that he was there to do a job and so were the players.
A good practice was flawlessly executed drills where players were “taught to play his game of basketball. Coach Knight’s motivational toolkit included push-ups, wind-sprints, and insulting verbal barbs” (Snook et al., 2005, p. 2). He was a perfectionist and he expected perfection of himself and his players. His players were mainly part of the out-group. They did not appear to spend much time developing relationships and the leader-member exchange was not as high-quality as the leadership experienced by Coach K’s players. The dominant leadership style used by Coach Knight is the Authority-Compliance style. He is task oriented and is looking for results. He is not as concerned about the individual or establishing relationships.
On the other hand Coach K is more interested in the relationships with his players. He wanted them to feel a part of his family. His leadership style is more Team Management. He is task oriented but the difference is he places almost equal importance on the interpersonal relationships established with his players. In studying both of these great basketball coaches, who were equally successful, I learned that great successes can be achieved with various leadership styles. The team’s winning records is only one type of success. The larger picture is how willing were the player’s to follow, support, defend, or even send their own son’s to be coached by either Coach Knight or Coach Krzyzewski. Coach Krzyzewski has his players’ universal approval and therefore he is the more effective leader.