July 7, 2020
“Character is a choice, integrity is a lifestyle.”
In 2005 I was voted captain of the Vanderbilt University Men’s Basketball team as a sophomore. This responsibility carried me through my senior year and remained valuable through my professional career in sport and business. Leadership skills learned through basketball apply nicely in business as transferable skills and thrive in team culture. I’d like to share the top three lessons that have helped me to thrive as a leader, supervisor, and colleague.
The first thing I learned was accountability. This word is one that carries a negative connotation however it is most valued by leaders. As the captain of my team, it was important to always keep my word and give consistent effort. It was never about being perfect, but rather giving my teammates and coaches confidence in what they could expect from me. Whether it was going to class, keeping my grades up, arriving at practice and games on time, or my performance, it was important to be accountable. Not just to myself, but most importantly to those who were counting on me to do my part and do it well.
In the workplace and as a leader, accountability is equally, if not more essential to success. Customers require excellence from products and services or they demand a refund. Staff culture rises and falls with quality vs inconsistent leadership. And subordinates typically follow the example set before them. Accountable leadership leads by example, is consistent in their approach, and only requires from others what they are willing to do themselves.
The second thing I learned was integrity. I can remember a senior teammate showing me the ropes during my freshman year. Til this day, he is still the most respectable person I know and continues to thrive in business as a result. He taught me that what we do when we think no one is watching often times comes to the light when we least expect it. Therefore we should treat the janitor privately the same as we treat the coaches publicly. That we should work just as hard in the gym by ourselves as we would in practice. And most importantly we should treat women privately the same as we treat our loved ones publicly. That’s integrity.
As a leader of people, it’s important to maintain high moral and ethical standards for self. How we show up to work, how we treat people, and yes, even the way we behave at home. This is cliche, but it rings true. “If anything matters, then everything matters.”
The third thing I learned was trust. Our coach made us do a trust drill where one player has to purposely fall backward with their back turned to the teammate. At one foot away stands a teammate ready to catch the other before they hit the ground. The most difficult part about this drill is that you can’t turn around to see which teammate is there or that someone is there at all. There’s only trust. Sound familiar?
How often do we rely heavily on our colleague’s abilities, experience, and/or decision making? I assume a lot. What happens when a colleague repeatedly drops the ball? And what is the impact of losing trust in a colleague? Most issues can be solved by doing things that build or rebuild trust. Think about all the issues you’ve seen play out amongst colleagues. Would trust have made a difference? You bet it would. Trust increases one’s ability to focus on their assignments, thus no more micromanaging. Trust gives people the confidence to share the truth with leadership instead of feeding their supervisor’s ego. George Macdonald said it this way, “To be trusted is a better compliment than to be loved.”
Take the time to reflect on your accountability, integrity, and trust. If you’ve not surveyed your direct reports in a while, now is a great time to ask specific questions about yourself as a leader. This information could change you, your business, and most importantly the culture of your business. Don’t make assumptions about your leadership, ask. Whether you like the results or not, your staff will appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback and you will have started the first step to leading with integrity.