An excerpt from my book “Entitled To Nothing” on creating buy-in. Learn more about the book and purchase it here.

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Creating Buy-In

In that pre-practice team meeting I asked our guys if they thought we were good enough to win the league. It’s a great place to start for two reasons – one is I want them to say it and own it. The second is no team with anyone who is half a competitor on it is going to say no, they don’t think they can win the league. You won’t get much debate. I wanted them to set a high standard for themselves, and that standard was to win the league. And I wanted to hear them say it to me to enhance their level of buy-in.

Once they told me they thought we were good enough to win the league, the next question was how? What are you guys willing to do differently? We were talking about something that had never been done before – RIC had never won the league. They had never even played in the league championship game. I wanted to make it clear that change had to take place. What we have been doing hasn’t been good enough to reach that standard, so we have to talk about what we’ll do differently.

By establishing a new standard and getting them to own it, we could take steps towards building an approach. Again, asking questions is so important. I wanted them to say it, to be able to own it. When you work toward your goals as an organization, get your people to talk about it. Then you can discuss the steps you have to take together to get there—and make sure they realize it’s not going to be easy.

The players set the standard—win the league—and then I got them to tell me how we were going to get there. It was becoming theirs, and they didn’t even know it. The way we were going to be different on the court was by playing defense. But I wanted to make sure they had all of the tangible information in front of them so they could see where we had to change. In establishing a new culture, this is very important. The more specifics they can see the more impact you can have.

I put the offensive numbers of every team in the league up on the board in that team meeting. I think Western Connecticut had led the league in scoring the previous year at like 87 points per game. RIC had finished somewhere in the middle of the pack. I did the math on how many possessions would have to change for us to beat the teams above us in the standings, and it was roughly four posses‐ sions. If we could get four more stops per game against the top four teams in the league, we’d be in first place. I asked them if that was possible. Can we win four more possessions? We talked about going to West Conn or Keene State and getting two more stops per half. That doesn’t sound like a lot to ask. But that was the difference between leading the league in scoring with our offensive numbers and finishing in the middle of the pack.

I used their own words as the fuel. That’s why it’s so important to collaborate with your team and get them to tell you what they want, what they believe. You guys told me we are good enough to win the league. You’ve seen the evidence, where it’s going to take about four more stops per game to get the job done. You said it really matters to you. So now I’m going to push you to get there. I’m going to demand more out of you on the defensive end then you have ever given. And we are going to commit to being in the best possible shape we can be in to be great defen‐ sively. You guys told me you were capable, and you told me it was impor‐ tant to you. Now you have to buy-in and trust me to get us there.

My general philosophy as a head coach started to take shape that day. I had a pretty good idea what my approach would be when I got a head coaching job, but seeing it on the board and talking it out ignited me. I wanted a team that was tough and committed on the defensive end, but that played with freedom and confidence on offense. I knew the defensive end could separate us, especially in the Little East Conference.

Be specific about your own identity as a leader, and intentional about the identity of your organization. Identify areas of change that can help you, and where your team will really see and feel a differ‐ ence. Show them the facts. Ask them a lot of questions to get them to take ownership, and to tell you what they are willing to do.

Leadership isn’t getting your team to buy-in to what you are selling. Leadership is getting them to buy-in to something they believe. Creating that dynamic is a difference maker. Our identity started to form that day, as did our belief.