A lot of leaders like to say they “don’t have a lot of rules.” The thought being having strict rules about specific behaviors will have the players walking on eggshells and paint them into a corner when someone breaks a rule. And not every situation is the same. Is being two minutes late for practice the same as being thirty minutes late on game day? Leaders like to have flexibility to treat each situation on its own – and, if we’re being honest, the ability to find a way out of discipline that might hurt the team in the short term.

Standards are different than rules. Rules are meant to guide the conduct of your team, while standards are shared beliefs that maintain a high quality of effort and performance. Rules are usually set in place by the leader. Standards can be owned and maintained by the team. Standards represent a level you are constantly working to achieve. A rule is to always be on time. A standard is to give maximum effort every day.

Standards and rules don’t paint you in to a corner. It’s the punishment that does that. Regardless of whether you have standards or rules, you don’t have to have a correlating punitive arrangement. You can treat each violation of your standards a different way, without being inconsistent. There is a difference between somebody who is one minute late to class and comes sprinting in to the building because they couldn’t find a parking spot, and somebody casually walking into the building twenty minutes late. Somebody who gets frustrated with a turnover and jogs back on defense is below your standards, but it’s not the same as someone who consistently gives a lazy effort.

Painting yourself into a corner with the penalty isn’t a reason not to have rules or standards. To uphold your standards, you simply have to be consistent with the accountability. If you make the team run when they are late for practice, make sure you do it every time they are late for practice. If someone is late for shoot around on the day of the game, you don’t have to bench them for the first half. The penalty for being late is generally extra sprints, and that doesn’t have to change because someone was late on game day.

Whether you have rules or standards, or whatever else you’d like to call them, the accountability is the key. It’s not the punishment, and it doesn’t have to be the same thing every time. But the level of accountability has to remain the same. You can’t let certain things go, and decide hold the team accountable when it’s convenient. The rules you have aren’t the issue. An inconsistent level of accountability will cause a problem.

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