The 4 Leadership Traits of Pete Carril
Though he looked like someone who had never played the game, Pete Carril spoke with great authority and inspiration. Four simple traits defined his style.
If you were ever walking along the Princeton campus and saw a short, squatty, elderly man with thick glasses and a baggy sweater, you would never think he was the head basketball coach. You might suspect he was a scientist, a math savant or a visiting professor.
Yet, Pete Carril was more than a winning coach; he was a great leader, a teacher, and a deep, divergent thinker who developed a style of play that enabled his team from the Ivy League to compete on the biggest stages. Carril passed away Monday at 92.
His impact on the game was profound as coaches from all over the world visited him and learned the details of his ever-popular Princeton offense.
He was also a great leader. Though he looked like someone who had never played the game, he spoke with great authority and inspiration. Four simple traits could define his style that he practiced religiously with every team he coached.
The Carril leadership style consists of:
BRUTAL HONESTY: “I just tell them (players) what is on my mind very emphatically," he once said. "I tell them the good points, and I tell them the bad points. When you are as direct as I am, you are going to offend some people.”
The truth might hurt to hear, but great leaders never stop sharing their feelings. Ivy League sports.com wrote of him: "He saw things his way, did them his way, said them his way. If there was truth to be promulgated, he could crawl onto the ledge of political correctness before shouting it out."
INNOVATION: Carril one said: “As the cost of going to school goes up, it gets harder and harder to recruit bonafide athletes at Princeton.” So he changed his strategy to get away from conventional methods. While everyone in basketball had specialists playing each position, Carril sought generalists. He wanted all of his players, regardless of size, to do the same things: dribble, shoot, pass and defend.
SELF-AWARENESS: Carril understood his situation, was comfortable in his own skin and embraced the obstacles. He once said: “One of the things that helped me at Princeton is that I have no desire to be famous, because the Admissions office turns down the guys who would have made me famous.“ He added: “I don’t care if I never see my name in the paper. I don’t care if I am never on television … I don’t need any of that to motivate me to do my work.” He loved the job, not the glory.
PERSPECTIVE: He stayed in the moment. "When Princeton hired me, I never thought I could not do the job. I never looked at things as challenges, or set goals, or anything like that. I didn’t say to myself, well, I’ll stay at Princeton for five years and then move to a bigger school. It was an opportunity that I wanted and I was able to get, and so, you go ahead and do what you’ve always done, which is to do the best you can. I did not feel intimidated. I define success as having a chance to win every game. It’s my job to give my players the chance to have their character, their drive to win, determine the outcome. And the quality of your teaching – your own character – comes out."
Carril was a professor walking across campus, but his subject wasn’t math. It was leadership and hoops.
“I am committed by my style and principles of life to make the best of whatever the situation," he once said. "It has been the way I have done things for my entire life… I get my happiness out of seeing things done right, out of being successful, out of seeing the interaction of people working together for a good cause, spilling their hearts out on the floor, giving you the best of what they have."
Rest in peace, Professor. Your lessons will last forever and ever.