I watched a presentation once from Coach Krzyzewski from Duke University about his approach to leading some of the world’s best athletes – the US Olympic Team. If you don’t know about Coach “K,” he has more wins than any coach in Division 1 college basketball history.
Coach K talked about his first meeting with the team comprised of the following NBA superstars: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Jason Kidd, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and more. Talk about a challenging team to lead! The question was never about talent; the question was whether they could learn to play together. This is a challenge many leaders face on a daily basis: Long on talent – short on team.
In their first meeting, he decided not to talk about offense and defense. Instead, he built the agenda around how the team was going to “live together.” The concept is one the coach learned as a cadet at West Point. Many of you will recognize this as a team norms exercise. Here’s how it played out for the Olympic team.
The coach told the team, “We’re not going to have any rules – we’re going to have standards.” His belief is that people don’t own rules, but they will own standards.
He started the conversation by offering two standards:
Look each other in the eyes when you talk to them.
Always tell the truth.
He then explained why he felt these were important concepts – when combined, they build trust. He asked the team if they could support these two standards. They said yes. Then he opened the floor to see what others would like to add.
Jason Kidd was the first to speak. He suggested the team should be on time. He said to be late shows a lack of respect for your teammates. Everyone agreed – and throughout their time together, no one was ever late!
As the conversation continued, standards such as Be Aggressive and Be Smart surfaced. The team embraced these ideas as well. Then, Coach K offered another one: Never have a bad practice. They agreed.
Dwayne Wade was next, “We need to have each other’s back.” The team felt this was a good idea.
Kobe Bryant added, “Play great defense and rebound.” He was saying he was going to play good defense. The next day, in the team’s first practice, he never took a shot. He wanted to set an example.
As the meeting was about to adjourn, Lebron James was the last player to speak. He said, “No excuses. No complaining – we’re going to win the gold medal.”
The coach closed the meeting by affirming the work of the team. “If we embrace these standards, on we’ll get our gold medal.” And, they did.
What standards has your team established?
Mark Miller is the best-selling author of 6 books, an in-demand speaker and the Vice President of High-Performance Leadership at Chick-fil-A. His latest book, Leaders Made Here, describes how to nurture leaders throughout the organization, from the front lines to the executive ranks and outlines a clear and replicable approach to creating the leadership bench every organization needs.