I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback and had some great discussions about my book Entitled To Nothing, An Uncommon Approach to Leadership that I recently released. I love having conversations about some of the leadership concepts I discussed in the book and how to practically make them a part of your culture.

A big part of what I learned as a young head coach, and a theme that runs throughout the book, is the idea of ownership. It’s the idea that the culture of your organization isn’t really yours, it is theirs, and the players have to take ownership of the behaviors for you to sustain an elite level of success.

A conversation I have a lot with other coaches is about discipline, and how it relates to the ownership you give your team. When you have an incident that requires discipline, how do you go about holding your team accountable when you are trying to give them ownership of the program? Accountability is an essential piece of a championship culture, and it means there are consequences for your actions. Everyone is going to make mistakes, and sometimes your team won’t live up to the standards you (or they) have established. Action is required.

If you’ve read the book (thanks!) or this blog on a somewhat regular basis, you probably know that I love the approach of asking questions. I like to put the responsibility on the team, so they continue to take ownership of their standards. When we are discussing an issue within the team, I’ll usually ask “So, what are we going to do about it?” and give the guys the chance to take ownership of a solution. That doesn’t mean they get to make the decision. It just means I want to hear from them.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that giving your players ownership means they get to make all of the disciplinary decisions. There is a chain of command, for sure, and our culture of ownership does not eliminate that. The head coach sits at the top of that chain of command, and certain issues have to be dealt with from the top down. This isn’t contradictory to an ownership of culture, it is an essential part of it. We don’t hold a vote very time a decision is made.

If the pick-up games are getting sloppy and lazy, or someone shows up late for a meeting, I might ask the team how we are going to handle it. But if there is a major issue that requires attention and clearly disregarded the standards of the program, I’m going to handle it. I always tell my teams that they are in charge of their behavior off the court. But if an issue off the court gets to my desk, you’ve made it clear you can’t handle it, so I will. And you probably won’t like the result.

Every situation that requires discipline isn’t a sign of weakness in your culture. The strength of your culture is what allows you to handle those situations and get better as you get past them. I had a championship team one year that had a party in the dorms over Christmas break when no one was allowed to be there, and I had to suspend 6 players. I had two key players get into a fight in the locker room one year, and they and a few teammates lied to me about it. Those aren’t situations where I’m asking the team how they think we should handle it. Clearly, you’ve proven you can’t handle the ownership of the program, and I’m going to make it clear that’s unacceptable.

Holding your team accountable with discipline as the head coach does not mean you are taking away ownership of the culture from the players. You are teaching them the responsibility that comes with having ownership. When they prove they aren’t up to the task, you have to make it clear that behavior that doesn’t meet your standards won’t be accepted. You are still in charge, and there is always a chain of command. When something serious happens, you should be the one to respond. Giving them ownership doesn’t mean you are giving up the discipline.