Commitment & Connection: set standards, not rules

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Every December before commencing pre-season Winter Training, the Blue Angels have an all-hands meeting. Its purpose is to get everyone on the same page by clearly defining the team’s values and its mission. It is a time of reflection and story-telling as the new members of the team begin their assimilation and the returning members are reminded of “Who are we?” “Why do we exist?” “How must we behave and perform to succeed?”

Many organizations answer these questions with rules. Rules that are often a response to problems and poor behavior by the lowest denominator.

This is a recipe for a race to the bottom as the rules shout, “We don’t trust you.”  The rules cause disengagement and apathy. The leader is forced to be a policeman and the burden is on him or her to identify infractions and mete out consequences fairly. It can be exhausting.

Coach Krzyzewski doesn’t use rules when developing his basketball teams at Duke University and the U.S. National Team. He uses standards.

“Standards are the things that you do all the time and the things for which you hold one another accountable.” — Mike Krzyzewski, USA Men’s Basketball Coach

During a team meeting of Team USA, Coach K asked LeBron James, Jason Kidd, and Kobe Bryant to share the team’s standards.

Kidd: “We have to be on time;”

Kobe: “We have to rebound and play defense;”

Lebron: “No excuses.”

Here’s a list of standards the team developed:

  1. No Excuses — We have what it takes to win.
  2. Great Defense — This is the key to winning the gold [medal]. We do the dirty work.
  3. Communication — We look each other in the eye.  We tell each other the truth.
  4. Trust — We believe in each other.
  5. Collective Responsibility — We are committed to each other.  We win together.
  6. Care — We have each other’s back.  We give aid to a teammate.
  7. Respect — We respect each other and our opponents.  We’re always on time.  We’re always prepared.
  8. Intelligence — We take good shots.  We’re aware of team fouls. We know the scouting report.
  9. Poise — We show no weaknesses.
  10. Flexibility — We can handle any situation. We don’t complain.
  11. Unselfishness — We’re connected. We make the extra pass. Our value is not measured by playing time.
  12. Aggressiveness — We play hard every possession.
  13. Enthusiasm — This is fun.
  14. Performance — We’re hungry. We have no bad practices.
  15. Pride — We are the best team in the world and we represent the best country.

Standards are aspirational. They focus on the highest denominator.  They inspire the best in all of us.

What standards would your team come up with?

Why not ask them so they own THEIR standards and hold each other accountable?

Be a High-Trust Leader: set standards and minimize rules.

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