A short excerpt from my upcoming book Entitled to Nothing: An Uncommon Approach to Leadership, due out in December.
That off-season gave me a lot of time to reflect, and I learned another important leadership lesson. Unfortunately, it came out of a difficult situation.
When I left the Big East to take the RIC job different people told me how challenging roster management was at the D3 level. There really wasn’t much you could do about it, they said, because the kids aren’t on scholarship. Kids are going to come and go a lot, and you can’t really hold them accountable. Especially when it came to academics. Kids were going to fail off and your roster was going to be different after Christmas every year – that’s just the way it worked.
I didn’t want to accept that. When I took over, I made sure our guys knew we were going to go to class. That is where the accountability in our program started, with your 8 AM class on Monday morning. I would be out there a couple of times each week in the morning to make sure they were on time for class. That was the deal.
I was going to hold them accountable academically simply because it was the right thing to do. I wanted them to be successful in the classroom and to get a degree, and I also wanted our roster to remain stable. What I didn’t realize was how much the academic accountability would make me a much better coach. By delivering that message early and following through on it, the guys knew I wasn’t sincere. I meant what I said. It helped establish (eventually) that the message was not negotiable.
As we got further along into the season, and certainly year after year, I could actually see the impact it on the court. By January and February our guys realized that when I delivered a message, I was going to follow through on it. There was no indecision. When we talked about basketball decisions, how we were going to practice, or game plans, there were no questions in their mind. If this is how we said we were going to play a ball screen, there was no indecision. I could literally see and feel the trust our guys had on the court. It all started with the accountability that came with the academics in the fall. Our trust as a team started off the court.
Accountability was a big part of our championship culture, and a big part of any long-term, sustained success. Again, for us it was about a responsibility to the behaviors that upheld our core values. But it’s so much more than the decisions you make in games or in practice. It’s something your team needs to see everywhere. In fact, it’s probably more impactful when it’s away from the gym. Getting to class, getting your work in, study hall, just simply being on time – accountability is everywhere. Your team needs to see that is how you live your life – and when they do, they’ll start to believe in your decisions.
Accountability should be present everywhere in your organization. It’s not just a discipline you find when things get reallyimportant. Don’t ever take short cuts with accountability. If you do, the foundation of your program will never be strong enough.