A brief excerpt from my upcoming book Entitled to Nothing: An Uncommon Approach to Leadership, due out in December.

Chapter VI – September 2006 (The Start of Year Two)

The Pressure of Leadership

As we headed into the fall to start our second year, we continued to work on our championship mentality. We would have most of the team coming back (we only lost KP to graduation) and we added a couple of talented newcomers, but the core was still intact. It was time to put it all together, and a lot of pressure came with that. 

Values in Behavioral Terms

Our meritocracy was in place – What have you done for the program today? That is what really mattered. Compete, produce and be a great teammate. That was RIC basketball.

Those standards were our core values, and we continued to define them as behavior. Our values needed to be more than talk. I had to make it clear to my team what the actions were that defined our values and show the behaviors we expected. Values are more than signs on the wall or phrases on the back of your shooting shirts. They have to be behaviors that your team can understand and perform.

Competing was the foundation of what we did on and off the court every day. But it had to be more than me yelling at them to compete when I didn’t like what was going on – it needed to be connected to action. When someone dove on the floor for a loose ball, we celebrated it. That’s competing. When someone sprinted back in transition to get a deflection and stop a fast break, we celebrated it. Competing. When you got up early to get extra study hall hours in because you have a big test that day, that’s competing. Giving your best effort at all times was competing to us and we made those behaviors clear.

It was important to me to emphasize production as one of our standards, even though you may think it goes without saying. Production matters. If all we talked about was who competed the hardest and did the right thing, we could end up with a really hard-working group that isn’t very good.  Effort and commitment are really important, and they are the things we can control. But it’s not enough. In any organization, the ability to produce should be celebrated. I’d never say that I’m going to start my five hardest workers, or my five best competitors, because it’s just not true. You will coach guys who compete their ass off on every possession but struggle to score or get rebounds. And you’ll coach guys who play smooth and casual but can get you 15 and 8. Believe it or not, production is actually something that is often undervalued. We have an idea in our head as a coach what a good player looks like and we get caught up in stuff like length and athleticism that represents potential, yet we often overlook production. Everything you like about your personnel should add up to production for your organization. If it doesn’t you probably shouldn’t like it so much.

Finally, we wanted great teammates. This value was very general, and that was on purpose. Being a great teammate encapsulates so many different things, on and off the court. If you show up every day and sacrifice your personal goals for the team, that’s being a great teammate. It involves being a good player, but also being a good person. It’s a broad way of making sure your guys are doing the right thing. But again, you have to define the behaviors for them. Reminding guys to get their study hall hours in. Calling guys to make sure they are awake before an early morning practice. Walking guys away from a party if a fight is about to go down. There are a lot of ways to define for your team what it means to be a great teammate. 

Compete, produce, and be a great teammate. That was how you earned merit in our program.

Defining values as behaviors is an effective way to turn talk into action. Make sure everyone in your organization knows not only what your core values are, but what they look like as behavior. Terms like work ethic, commitment and loyalty are pretty hollow if they aren’t attached to something real. Define and celebrate the behaviors connected to your core values and they become essential elements of your culture.

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