You Play to Win the Game - Leadership Lessons Westside Toastmasters, in Santa Monica
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Make Everybody Accountable

My players are professional football players. To me, that carries deep responsibility. There is a standard they need to live by and live up to. I tell them all the time that if they don't live up to that standard, there will be times when I'm going to need to issue more than a verbal correction. I let them know early on that there may be times when we have to withhold privileges or establish penalties to hold immature people accountable. You can talk all you want and say you're going to punish someone for wrong actions, but talk is cheap; real consequences lend force to words.

I don't believe in a lot of rules. I believe in setting high expectations and making sure each individual is aware of what is expected of him. I expect him to handle himself professionally at all times, and if he doesn't, then we're going to have issues. I don't care who he is.

John Abraham is one of our best players. During the 2003 season, he made a serious mistake in judgment by driving after he had been out drinking. He was arrested for driving under the influence, and he had to spend the night in jail and miss practice. We were 0-4 at the time, and we needed him badly, but I knew, and everyone else knew, too, what I was going to do. One of our rules is, don't miss practice. Don't be late and don't miss practice. If you do, there will be consequences.

We all make mistakes, but that could have been a critical mistake for him, for his career, for the people involved. You can't take that lightly, and you can't forgive the fact that it affected his ability to come to work that day. Nobody on my team gets a hall pass. The rules and standards were already set. I told my players, 'This is the way it goes. You make decisions every day whether to go down road A or road B. With every decision, there's consequences. Some are good. Some are bad. You get to make the choice.'

The way I saw it, John had put himself before the football team. And once someone does that, then I've got serious problems. Guys kept saying to me, 'The league hasn't done anything, so maybe you shouldn't either.' That didn't matter to me. The league doesn't run this football team. I do, and I set the policy.

Now, that doesn't mean I don't have compassion. I knew the first thing I had to do was help the player and make sure he was okay, and then I had to help the football team. I knew what I was going to do, but I waited to do it. John came up into my office, and I said, 'You know what I have to do, right?' He knew. I didn't fine him; I wasn't going to take his money. Why would I do that? The league will do that. What I did was deactivate him. The team rule was, you have to be here for practice. So he wasn't going to play. Simple as that. He missed practice because he chose to do something; he chose road B when he should have chosen road A, and it landed him in jail and on the deactive list.

Nobody thought I would do it. Everyone was saying that I wouldn't bench my best player. Not when we were 0-4. Heck, I told them, we were 0-and-4 with John Abraham; we can certainly lose a fifth with or without him. I said, 'We don't need this guy. We're going to play together as a team with players who choose the right road.' John understood. He knew he had made a mistake and now had consequences to pay. It sent a big message to the rest of the team, too. If I'm holding John accountable, make no mistake, I'm going to hold all of them accountable.

Often the person who has to dole out punishment or consequences feels bad about doing it. I felt bad that John had made a mistake, but I didn't feel bad about deactivating him because he knew the rules. Sometimes it's not so clear-cut, though.

Say you check your bank account one day, and you find that your housekeeper has taken one of your checks and has illegally written it to herself and cashed it. The amount was only $30, as she tearfully tells you after you find out, and she used it to pay the rest of her rent, which was way overdue. You feel bad, she feels bad, and maybe you let it go, and then where are you? Always looking over your shoulder, always wondering what is going to happen next. No, you can't let it go. She made a decision, and what she did was wrong, and there have to be consequences because that's the way society works. The real problem, you tell her, is that she never told you about the check; she never left a note or a voice message, and she didn't get it repaid before you found out, as she said she had been planning to.

It hurts you to fire her, but she must be held accountable for her action. What does it say to your daughter if you just let it go? What does it say to everyone around you? Every decision a person makes has ramifications. You had to fire her because otherwise you are telling her she is above the rules. You are showing your kids that there are exceptions, that not everyone has to pay the price for doing something wrong. You are telling yourself that the rules don't matter. Society doesn't work that way.

I had to deactivate my best player. Maybe you have to demote your best assistant, or ground your kid for lying. You do it not because you enjoy it, but because it's the right thing to do. In the end, you hope the person learns from his mistake and can move on to a better place. That's what you hope for. If you don't do anything, then you just might be keeping that person back.

You Play to Win the Game - Leadership Lessons Westside Toastmasters, in Santa Monica
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