As a University of Kansas basketball fan, I’ve never rooted for Duke. But there is a Duke moment that stands out in my memory. It occurred probably 10 or 15 years ago. Duke was in the process of getting upset in the NCAA Tournament. They were playing hard that day but not well. Near the end of the game, the senior star player fouled out, highlighting the frustrating day for everyone. As he exited the floor for the last time as a college athlete, he headed straight for Coach Mike Krzyzewski with tears streaming down his face and the two shared a prolonged embrace.
My first thought was that Coach K must have really messed up his black suit hugging a really sweaty guy (probably a sign that I’d make a terrible basketball coach). The second was how evident the bond between the leader and the followers was that day. It wasn’t an expression of victory, but one of commitment.
Most organizations have core values. Somewhere anyway. They’re usually posted on the website and probably printed on a brochure somewhere. But do people talk about them individually? Does anyone know them? Are they specific and meaningful enough to make a difference?
At the end of the day, the organization is going to do what it’s going to do, right? So maybe a better question is: why do we even have core values?
We’ve probably all come across sets of core values that were easy to make fun of or were too vague to impact anyone. But well constructed, specific core values can add tremendous benefit both to organizations and individuals. In fact, here are three ways I’ve seen this happen.
On April 21, 2003, Carolyn Jessop finally followed through on a plot more daring than any you or I have likely faced. Under the cover of darkness in the middle of the night she herded her 8 children past several “sister wives” and into a van where they narrowly escaped the quasi-totalitarianism of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (a polygamist group renounced by the Mormon Church) and her life as one of several abused wives to one of the group’s highest leaders.
Five short years later, she was called on by authorities as an expert in the initial custody process following the raid of the YFZ Ranch in Texas, which was being run by her ex-husband. The raid proved pivotal in landing the extremist sect’s leader Warren Jeffs in prison with a life sentence on multiple child sexual assault convictions.
I read Jessop’s New York Times bestseller Escape after it had just been released in 2007 as I was training for an overseas deployment to Iraq with the U.S. Army. I’m not sure what prompted me to read her story – or how I even heard about it – but I immediately thought she deserved to win some kind of Outstanding Person of the Year award and wished I could tell her as much. Jessop doesn’t lead a nation, a sports club or a Fortune 500 company, but she embodies some of the most important leadership attributes you or I could ever hope to learn.
I’m a sucker for leadership philosophies embraced by successful athletics coaches. Whether it’s Coack K on teamwork or Coach Burton on developing high school kids, I always come away with something powerful and enriching. I think the reason is that athletics provides one of the greatest leadership development opportunities out there because players learn to work as a team toward a common goal in a competitive environment. In short, it’s leadership development training for life.
If you follow college football at all, you might have been surprised when Kansas State University climbed to #1 in the BCS Poll at one point this football season.
It was years ago that the late Green Bay Packers football coach echoed these words as part of his famous “What It Takes to be Number One” speech:
“Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”
Reverend Lombardi (as my high school football coach referred to him) knew something about winning – that it was habitual. But I believe he can teach us something about alignment when it comes to our core values as well.