Over the past year, The Daily Coach has spoken to dozens of coaches and keynote speakers about building and sustaining culture, vetting character, and the non-obvious hallmarks of elite teams.
For this week’s Saturday Blueprint, we put together some of the best thoughts from our guests relating to team construction and cultivating buy in.
You believe there are six pillars of championship character.
1. Tough people win
2. Integrity over everything
3. Growth follows belief
4. Excellence everywhere
5. Relentless effort
6. Service before self
Any one of the six can be a starting point that leads to the other five. It’s like a circle — no matter where you start, if you keep going, you’ll eventually end up back at the same spot. The reason I choice these to define championship character is that they require zero talent. I just have to be willing to choose to be the person to do the work. If I make that choice, inevitably what happens is that my talent gets better. These six amplify talent and apply in every area of life, whether it’s work, sports, relationships.
-Stephen Mackey, keynote speaker and best-selling author
You’re obviously in an international sport signing players from all over the world. What’s the key to evaluating a prospect when you may not have perfect information?
I’d say this applies on and off the field. You have to do as much digging and research on the character of the individual. What we do now is we have two people from our organization who go meet with every player face to face, talk to people who know them. It’s the same off the pitch. Their historical performance may be awesome in marketing, sales, partnerships, HR, finance, but we really look at the character here.
You can have the best track record and be the best performer, but it doesn’t always add up to team performance. Character to me is so important and is going to drive ultimate success long term. Don’t always look for the most talented. Don’t always look for the top-of-the-class folks. Look at the ones who have character, resilience, work ethic, who have core values that match ours as an organization. There’s always going to be errors, there’s always going to be risk. But we try to minimize that character risk.
-Marc de Grandpré, New York Red Bulls president and general manager
Tell us about your program values.
We have 13 now, and for me, these are really important. Why? Because we all come from different backgrounds. We all have different philosophies of what good choices are and what good behavior is. This is why we have to, in a way, certify and get buy in from everyone in our culture. I challenged my sophomores to pick their top three core values and their bottom three. Then, I challenged them on their favorite and which core value can we do without?
It’s really interesting. Most of them picked “Grateful” as the top. Almost all of them picked “Galvanizing” as the least important. But galvanizing is the leadership core value.
They all know they didn’t score very well in galvanizing because they’re not willing to open their mouths, so we discussed why. They recited for me all the different reasons. If they open their mouths, they know all the girls are thinking “Who is she to tell me to do that?” Then, the conversation got to, “You’re not necessarily saying this is the least important core value. This is the core value you don’t have that you’d be really afraid to select as an important one because you’re not willing to galvanize and lead verbally.” They all conceded yes.
It’s really interesting this issue we’re having in verbal leadership is something they’re very transparent about admitting. It’s a thing I haven’t solved yet.
-Anson Dorrance, University of North Carolina women’s soccer coach
Do you have values or buzzwords you associate with Duke women’s basketball?
This was actually really cool. At (ACC Media Day), I was with two of my players. They got asked that question, and I had no idea what they were going to say because we don’t have them written or plastered on a locker room door, or practice facility, or game facility. I’m not knocking people who do that stuff.
It was cool to listen to what they thought our values were because to be honest with you, they’re not what I say they are. Think about it. The real values are what the players say they are and what they abide by. If I put something on a wall and say, “These are our values” but my players don’t adhere to or subscribe to them… then who cares that I had this picture on the wall?
They talked about standards and expectations, like there’s a standard when you come into practice every day or when you walk in the building. There’s a standard and expectation that you have to come to the building with. If you fall below that, they know I’m going to let them know. Then, it’s my job to get them back to that level. It’s unacceptable to be below that.
It can’t be an impossible bar. So, what are the things that are really important to me that if they’re falling below that I’m going to let them know?
Their effort, certainly. The effort has to be at the highest level possible for each individual player. Their focus has to be at the highest level.
Their discipline has to be at the highest level. If they’re falling below any of those things, that’s a problem. The goal is to every day be able to come in and be at the highest levels of those things.
I just don’t believe in an ebb and a flow in those three areas. How are you disciplined if there’s an ebb and a flow in your discipline? How do you work hard if there’s an ebb and a flow in your effort? That doesn’t add up. How are you wanting to be great if there’s an ebb and a flow in your focus? You don’t get an ebb and a flow in that.
That’s what we try to explain to them. Then, we challenge them to reach that. That doesn’t mean all of my players every single day reach that. No, they don’t. That’s the goal, and that’s the expectation, that’s the standard.
-Kara Lawson, Duke women’s basketball coach
What do the great teams have in common in your experience beyond just talent?
I think it’s a Buddhist term called Mudita. That’s the ability to express happiness for somebody else’s excellence. Not every team has that. Every good team I was on did, though. I was on some teams where when I hit a home run, I was the only one happy, The great teams have it where even if you’re not playing, you’re involved in the dugout and being engaged. The teams that play well really pull for one another and celebrate each others’ successes. It’s not magic. It’s a selflessness.
It sounds simple, but you just show up to help win the game. You’re not pissed if you’re hitting sixth. You’re not mad getting pulled out or, if you are mad, you know there’s a bigger thing going on. That would be the one thing I’ve experienced. When you don’t have it, you know you don’t have it.
-Clint Hurdle, former manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Colorado Rockies
You’ve been with the Heat since 1995. Erik Spoelstra is now the second-longest-tenured head coach in the NBA. When you see all of the turnover in the profession now, what do you make of it — and do you think leaders have in general become overly impulsive?
I think you’re right. It’s almost frenetic in a way based on the one tenet that probably a lot of organizations have: Win. I believe you only win through continuity and keeping people together, helping them grow. Erik Spoelstra, I didn’t even know who he was when I came here in 1995. He was down in the video room. He just kept supplying me with information. He used to send me some of the greatest notes that I used in practice, and I let him know.
But I think the thing that really helped Spo was in 2006, when we won the championship, was that he had delivered the edit from a game the night before. All of the players were sitting in the locker room waiting for the film. He brought it into me. We put it into the DVD, turned it on, and I gave him the remote and said, “You go over the film in front of the players.” That day, the film was really directed at Shaquille O’Neal not getting back on defense. I said, “You know what I asked you to put on that edit. I want you to explain to all these players who have respect for you. Don’t hold back.” He was a little nervous in his first presentation to those guys.
One of the great things about Shaquille and the players that day is they actually sat up in their chairs and showed him the respect because they knew how much he worked behind the scenes. They let him basically criticize them, praise them. It took him about five minutes to get his voice going, but that was the first time I said this guy has something special.
Continuity to me is the most important thing. Teaching from within. Promoting people who have believed in you and done their job. Giving them the opportunity. With a lot of what’s going on in professional sports with turnover, turnover, turnover, I don’t want that here, and neither does Micky Arison, our owner. He doesn’t like to fire people.
Train them up, give them a job, let them know it’s all hands on deck, even though you might have to help somebody else out in times of need. But just do your job, and do it well. Present yourself in a manner as a leader, because everybody here is a leader in their own department.
Spo now is the catalyst for all of this. Spo is a different thinker than I was. He’s a more contemporary thinker at his age. The books that he read versus the books that I read are different. He’s very intelligent. He really has a depth of knowledge now about coaching and people and how to coach contemporary players. Sometimes, I look at him and he says, “Coach, it’s not the way it used to be.” I trust him implicitly, and he’s turned out to be one of the great coaches ever.
-Pat Riley, Miami Heat president
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