Rules vs Standards

You don't need rules. But you do need standards of excellence that inspire, empower, and challenge those you lead to higher levels of achievement.

When Duke's Mike "Coach K" Krzyzewski became the head coach to lead the USA Basketball National Team to victory, he held a meeting. Coach K knew his wins and national titles accumulated at Duke University would never truly emotionally resonate with the NBA superstars he was coaching. The college game is vastly different from the pros. As Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, Chuck Daly would say, "Coaching at the NBA level is all about managing attitude, behavior, and performance." 

Coach K has always understood his responsibility as a servant leader is to provide real value, direction and to capture the minds, hearts, and commitment of his team. He knew he could not just show up to the USA Basketball training camp only with his prolific coaching and leadership accolades in hand. So during his first meeting, Coach K decided not to discuss offense and defense gameplans. Yet he started by telling the players and staff, "We're not going to have any rules—we're going to have standards." 

He then continued by saying the only two standards that matter:

  1. Look at each other in the eye when you talk to them.

  2. Always tell the truth.

Coach K believed these two standards when working together build trust, and trust is the cornerstone of all exceptional teams. Talent alone cannot win. Talent without trust cannot win. Only teams and organizations built on trust can achieve maximum results and sustainable performance.

In his book The Gold Standard: Building a World-Class Team, Coach K goes into detail about his concept of standards and not implementing rules. Regardless of who we lead, we must communicate each day the guidelines of excellence we will all adapt. Then hold each member of the team accountable—including ourselves daily.

Here are five standards to adopt as you move from where you are today to where you want to be tomorrow:

  1. ACT LIKE A CHAMPION. Every action and behavior must always demonstrate a high level of professionalism—your inner scorecards matter.  

  2. ONLY RIGHT NOW MATTERS. Our belief centers on being in the moment. Nothing else is important. As Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle once said: "Our job is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand."

  3. SPEAK TRUTH. "Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth-telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving." — James E. Faust

  4. NO EXCUSES. "Who is good at making excuses is seldom good at anything else." — Benjamin Franklin 

  5. FARM YOUR LAND. "Our fatigue is often caused not by work, but by worry, frustration, and resentment." — Dale Carnegie

You don't need rules. But you do need standards of excellence that inspire, empower, and challenge those you lead to higher levels of achievement. These five standards are not merely mentioned one time or put on some pretty sign or branded wall. They are working standards to be mindfully performed every single day. Each standard that you cultivate must become part of the culture's DNA and the team's mindset. When this transpires consistently, you venture from good to great and have a team of supreme talent, not just a collection of talented people.


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