Chris Kolenda Leading with Dignity: Mandela's Lesson for Biden and Us All

Leading with Dignity: Mandela’s Lesson for Biden and Us All

Mandela’s leadership was about choosing dignity over power

I spent the past two weeks in South Africa, our final stop being the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg on June 27th. Mandela’s wisdom and grace inspired me. He negotiated a peaceful transfer of power from the delegitimized apartheid government to one that represented all South Africans and launched the Truth and Reconciliation process that followed.

President Joe Biden’s disastrous debate occurred that evening. The contrast was striking. 

Unlike most developing world leaders who rewrite the rules to stay in control, Mandela stepped down after a single term. 

  1. Commitment to Democracy: Mandela believed sincerely in the principles of democracy and wanted to set a precedent for peaceful and democratic transitions of power in South Africa. By stepping down after one term, he reinforced the importance of constitutional democracy and term limits.
  2. Age and Health: Mandela was 80 years old when he stepped down. Significant factors were his age and desire to spend more time with his family after decades of political and personal struggles.
  3. Leadership Transition: Mandela was keen on ensuring a smooth transition of power. Thabo Mbeki, who had served as his Deputy President, was well-prepared to take over. Mandela supported Mbeki’s candidacy, ensuring continuity and stability for the nation.
  4. Continuing Legacy: After stepping down, Mandela remained active in various social and humanitarian causes. He focused on HIV/AIDS awareness and education through the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

By stepping down, Nelson Mandela underscored his commitment to the principles he fought for and ensured that South Africa’s democracy would be robust and resilient in the years to come.

South Africa certainly has its issues today. The African National Congress has been running the country virtually unopposed since 1994 and has become disastrously corrupt. The problem is so bad that the ANC lost significant power in this year’s election, having to share power with the Democratic Alliance.

I’m grateful to President Biden. He visited my Afghanistan outpost in 2008, and in his speeches, he often refers to his visit to the Kunar River Valley. He even mentioned me and our unit in a 2010 speech at the VFW convention. 

Today, he’s stubbornly clinging to power. Aides and family members have systematically misled the public that everything’s fine and that we should not believe our own eyes that have watched the evident mental and physical decline. The debate showed a naked emperor.

He seems to have surrounded himself with people who will tell him what he wants to hear (you’re the only one who can save us) instead of what he needs to hear (it’s time to step down with a secure place in history and set up an appealing successor to win). 

Who benefits from egging him on?

What’s the upshot for you and me? You need trusted advisors who want what’s best for you and will tell you the truth, including when it’s time for another chapter

Departing the scene with dignity, whether by promotion, transfer, or retirement, while setting up your organization to thrive in your absence is among the most significant legacies you can bestow. 

Leaders like George Washington and Nelson Mandela show the way. 

Don’t let your leadership get to this point. Book a call with me so we can create a game plan.


Your Culture Doesn’t Eat Anything for Breakfast

The saying, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” attributed to Peter Drucker, suggests culture is your top priority. 

You know culture is important to cultivate, but where should it rank among your priorities in leading your organization and strengthening its purpose and direction? 

I love taking on popular nonsense, and this one needs addressing. 

Culture doesn’t eat breakfast, and it certainly doesn’t eat strategy.

Culture and Strategy are peers alongside Leadership, and you need all three working together to succeed.

These factors are interdependent and create a framework that supports growth, resilience, and competitive advantage. 

Leadership is the driving force behind an organization’s mission and objectives. It influences the strategic direction, sets the tone for culture, and motivates employees to perform at their best.

Apple’s Steve Jobs’ clear vision was critical in driving innovation and maintaining a competitive edge.

At Wells Fargo, the creation of fake customer accounts by employees was a direct result of toxic leadership behavior that prioritized sales targets over ethical behavior, leading to widespread dissatisfaction and demotivation.

Uber experienced high turnover rates and public scandals, which highlighted a failure to address workplace harassment and discrimination.

Culture embodies the values, norms, and practices that dictate how employees interact and work together. A positive culture fosters engagement, loyalty, and productivity, ensuring the collaborative pursuit of strategic goals.

Google’s emphasis on innovation and employee well-being has enabled it to attract top talent, drive continuous innovation, and maintain high employee satisfaction.

Enron collapsed from a culture of secrecy and poor internal communication, where unethical practices were hidden from employees and stakeholders.

Blockbuster’s resistance to change and innovation prevented it from adapting to the digital streaming revolution, resulting in its downfall.

The strategy involves setting the organization’s purpose and direction and inspiring plans to achieve them so you can navigate the competitive landscape and adapt to market changes.

Amazon’s strategic focus on customer obsession, operational efficiency, and innovation has allowed it to expand rapidly and dominate various markets.

Toys “R” Us failed to address the rise of e-commerce and changing consumer preferences.

Xerox invested heavily in its PARC research center without effectively commercializing the innovations, which led to missed opportunities in the technology market.

Each element—leadership, culture, and strategy—plays a unique and essential role in an organization’s success. The absence of any one of these factors can lead to specific challenges, even if the other two elements are strong. Recognizing these indicators can help organizations identify and address their weaknesses, ensuring a more balanced and effective approach to achieving their goals.

Here’s how you can identify when one of these elements is missing.

Stagnation indicates inadequate leadership. Employees may feel directionless despite having a supportive culture and clear strategies. There is no one to inspire them toward achieving strategic goals, and no one makes bold decisions, resulting in missed opportunities.

Low Morale and High Turnover suggest you need to strengthen your culture. Even with strong leadership and a clear strategy, a toxic or weak culture can lead to employee dissatisfaction and disengagement. People will vote with their feet, and those who remain struggle with execution and performance.

A lack of focus and direction indicates that strategy is missing. Despite having inspiring leaders and a positive culture, the organization may struggle with setting and achieving long-term goals, resulting in drift, confusion, and waste.

Here’s what happens when you have all three working together. 

  • Alignment: Leadership ensures that the strategy supports the organization’s vision and that the culture advances strategic initiatives.
  • Execution: Culture drives how strategy is executed. A positive culture promotes collaboration, innovation, and commitment, which are vital for successful strategy implementation.
  • Sustainable Growth: Leadership and culture together ensure that strategic initiatives are sustainable over the long term, adapting to changes and overcoming challenges effectively.

An organization needs strong leadership to set a vision and inspire action, a positive culture to create a supportive and engaging work environment, and a clear strategy to provide direction and prioritize efforts. The absence of any one of these elements weakens the whole structure, making it difficult to achieve and sustain success. The interplay among leadership, culture, and strategy creates a synergistic effect that drives performance and ensures long-term viability.

Chris Kolenda: The FDIC scandal shows that you promote what you permit in your work environment

The FDIC scandal shows that you promote what you permit in your work environment

How consciously do you assess your culture? 

Sometimes, leaders assume that what they say leads to the implementation they want, but they don’t have a sound process for checking. This fire-and-forget method of conveying expectations can create significant gaps in what you believe is happening versus what’s actually happening.

Other leaders lack awareness of how others see them. In such cases, you tend to see your own actions in the best possible light, while your employees see them much differently. Over time, resentment builds as you give yourself a pass for violating your own standards. This seems to be the case at the FDIC.

A Wall Street Journal investigation described a culture of bullying, sexual harassment, and discrimination at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), alleging Chairman Martin Gruenburg modeled much of that toxic behavior.

An independent investigator corroborated the WSJ report, and the House Financial Services Committee directed Gruenburg to testify about the work environment. A Senate Committee is doing the same.

Gruenburg resigned but said he’d stay in place until a successor was named. People reportedly fear a successor won’t be named and the resignation was a head fake to reduce the negative attention. 

Here’s how you can avoid this situation.

Leaders often unintentionally promote or permit toxic behavior. Poor emotional trigger management leading to outbursts is not uncommon, and leaders often dismiss their behavior as isolated incidents while their employees perceive a damaging pattern.  

Poor self-awareness creates significant disconnects between how you see yourself and how your employees see you.

Inadequate accountability turns isolated incidents into behavioral habits, as leaders look the other way and rationalize lousy behavior (he’s a jerk, but he gets results). Bullying, harassment, gaslighting, and other tactics become normal, creating a toxic work environment like the one reported at the FDIC.

Two simple measures can help you avoid the FDIC’s situation.

First, you need periodic, candid assessments of how people perceive you and their workplace so you can avoid blindsides, uncover festering issues, and take action. I encourage leaders to use a simple, 10-14-question tool like this one, which I can customize for you. 

Having a trusted agent conduct focus group discussions and individual interviews based on the survey results will get you as close to the ground truth as possible.

Your next step, which too many leaders miss, is to give feedback on the feedback. Discuss the results and what people urge you to sustain and improve. Decide what you will tackle, track progress, and keep people informed. 

Do this every 90 days, and your credibility will soar because people see you taking action. Their suggestions will be more detailed in future surveys because they know you take their feedback seriously.

Second, define your behavioral standards using a tool I call the dance floor. You want clarity on what’s right and what’s out of bounds. Here’s an example of Respect.

Too often, leaders are content with platitudes that offer little concrete guidance. The dance floor is a visual image you can use to nip bad behavior in the bud. 

Joe, did you know that you interrupted Susan three times during the meeting? What message does that behavior convey? Are we on the same page about mutual respect? 

You don’t have to be like the FDIC and get blindsided by an employee revolt or external investigation. These two steps will close gaps in perception and boost your ability to inspire people to contribute their best to your organization’s success.

How are these steps working for you? Email me to let me know.

Chris Kolenda: OMG Taylor Swift's dull album shows that you need candid advice

OMG Taylor Swift’s dull album shows that you need candid advice

I’m a die-hard Taylor Swift fan. 

My playlists are loaded with her songs. I love the beat, her depth, and the stories she tells. I’ve watched the Eras tour movie (my wife will go to her Warsaw concert), and I frequently insert her lyrics into stories and wisecracks. 

“This conference is like snow on the beach…” Swifties will know how to finish that sentence (comment and let me know). 

I have tunes like Archer, The Great War, and The Man on repeat. As someone bullied in high school, I find Mean a work of genius.

I wanted to love her latest album, The Tortured Poets Department, so much, especially after hearing its first release, Fortnight.

Alas, it’s not to be.

The 31-song album has flashes of Taylor brilliance sandwiched between a lot of … well … dullness, a case of more is less.

As a fan, I’m not a musician, so I can only speak for my personal taste. But I’m curious: do you think Taylor is pivoting into Lana del Rey (whom I also admire), or was this album an experiment that cleared away loads of built-up clutter?

Coming off arguably the greatest music tour in history, it’s possible that Taylor got a little sloppy, fell in love with unworkable ideas, and had advisers egging her on instead of challenging her thinking. 

It can happen to any of us. Ancient Greek tragedy is full of stories about hubris (overweening pride) preceding a fall. Many leaders, at the height of success, surround themselves with sycophants and enjoy the smell of their own gas as they go hurtling into ruin.

Trusted advisers are your antidote to the Tortured Poets problem. A good trusted adviser wants what’s best for you, can build your capacity, and is willing to tell you the truth. 

When was the last time someone challenged your thinking, helped you see things from a valuable perspective you hadn’t considered, and provided you with compelling insights?

If you do not have these conversations and lightbulb moments daily, you’ve outgrown your current support network and need to upgrade.

Chris Kolenda: The best way to interact with veterans this weekend

The best way to interact with veterans this weekend

It’s Memorial Day weekend, and there’s a high probability that you will encounter veterans and Gold Star family members.

Here are some great ways to interact.

As you know, Memorial Day honors service members who died serving our country, while Veterans Day (in November) recognizes those who served in America’s armed forces.

The small size of the U.S. military and the lack of a mandatory service obligation result in few Americans having a shared military experience with veterans or current service members. 

Wanting to be sensitive and often not knowing what to say, people tend to say, “Thank you for your service,” and go their separate ways. 

There’s nothing wrong with that, but you both are missing an opportunity to build bridges that bring people closer together.

Here are some questions you can ask veterans:

  • Tell me more about your service (what you did, where did you serve?).
  • What did you like the most about the military?
  • Are you remembering anyone in particular this Memorial Day? 
  • Please tell me about them.

You can ask a similar question to Gold Star family members:

  • Tell me more about your [son, daughter, mom, dad, brother, sister]

Most veterans and Gold Star families will appreciate your genuine interest. They’ll get to tell you some of their own story and that of someone they are remembering this weekend.

I’m remembering the six cavalry paratroopers from our unit killed in action in 2007: 

I’ve made a short video about each of them, which you can access at the link in each name.

I hope you have a joyful weekend commemorating those who gave their lives to protect our liberty and pursuit of happiness.

The 1700-mile Fallen Honor Ride mentioned in these videos started the Saber Six Foundation, which helps veterans create an ever-better future through programs that strengthen Purpose, Belonging, and Well-being. 

Go to for more information. 

Chris Kolenda: Is it time to dismantle your DEI and ERG programs

Is it time to dismantle your DEI and ERG programs

Are your DEI and ERG programs serving their purpose, or is it time for a radical reevaluation?

How to turn discomfort into growth.

Valuing Discomfort 

One of the most transformative experiences of my professional life was attending graduate school at the University of Wisconsin as a U.S. Army captain before teaching at West Point. As the only active-duty officer in the student body, I was immersed in a very different environment than I’d experienced in the past. 

I grew up in a conservative household, attended West Point, and served in the mostly conservative military. Madison’s liberal faculty and student body took me outside my comfort zone, and initially, I felt like a fish out of water. 

One professor remarked, “We don’t teach military history,” as if I could not study anything else. 

Stepping out of my comfort zone, I found myself among people who engaged in agreeable disagreements on various topics. This experience of embracing viewpoint diversity expanded my intellectual horizons and challenged me to reevaluate ideas I had previously held without much thought. 

Along the way, I developed the ability to listen without judgment to someone’s point of view and ask open-ended questions that helped me understand where they were coming from. 

Doing so develops your empathy skills, which, years later, helped our unit motivate a large insurgent group in Afghanistan to stop fighting and become allies. 

Those skills proved vital when I participated in unofficial meetings with Taliban representatives in 2017-8, resulting in the group writing an open letter to the American people requesting peace talks.

I wonder how differently I would have developed had I accepted loads of unsolicited career advice to avoid teaching at West Point and do what everyone else was doing.  

Taking off the Body Armor

I worry about the trend where people seek safety by bubble-wrapping themselves in their comfort zones. 

Like attracts like, and people naturally gravitate toward others who look, think, and act like them, creating comfort zones that can become exclusionary, even hostile, echo chambers.

Listening to new ideas and ones you disagree with takes courage; screaming at people from inside your comfort zone does not. 

Building bridges with people who look, act, and think differently than you do takes courage; fortifying your bubble wrap does not.

Joey Hutto, a captain during our 2007-8 deployment to Afghanistan, exemplified courage when he accepted a dinner invitation from village elders who’d been supporting the insurgents. Joey removed his helmet and body armor, handed his weapons over to his patrol, and walked with his interpreter into the home.

We were new to the area. The elders told Joey why ninety-five percent of the people were fighting us: years of civilian casualties and government corruption convinced them that the insurgents were the lesser of two evils. 

Joey listened to their point of view and asked follow-up questions so they knew he understood their message. “We cannot change the past,” he said. “But we can find ways to fix these problems and work together for a better future.” 

And they did.

Transcending Comfort

Strengthening your self-awareness and committing to growth are a good places to start if you want to become an ever-better version of yourself.

Knowing yourself, learning how others see you, and understanding what others need from you helps you approach people and situations with an open mind. This allows you to combat comfort zones that limit your exposure to new ideas and experiences. 

Chris Kolenda: Is it time to dismantle your DEI and ERG programs

Self-aware people recognize that growth requires entering their discomfort zones. Having guides (mentors, coaches, advisers, friends, etc.) to help you through vulnerability turns your discomfort into your growth zone. 

That successful journey leads to your transcendent zone, creating a new comfort zone for growing beyond.

Are you transcending or entrenching your comfort zone? 

  • When was the last time someone disagreed with you? 
  • How did you respond?

If your direct reports do not flag problems, offer new ideas, and try new things several times per week, you’re probably sending signals that you don’t brook disagreement. 

Employees may believe you lack of curiosity, react poorly when someone disagrees with you, or punish those who take a risk and fall short. Either way, people will self-censor, and you and your company won’t grow to new heights.

What discomfort zone are you entering next? Email me to let me know.

Chris Kolenda: Is investing in your culture worth it?

Is investing in your culture worth it?

Should you invest in that off-site or training program that promises to strengthen your culture? 

I admit that I am a bit biased because I’m a believer. I support my clients in these ways, and I even have a trademarked program called Building an Inspiring Culture®

To give you a concise report, I asked my chatbot to outline the business case for Building an Inspiring Culture®.

Taken together, these studies suggest that investing in your culture can have a huge payoff, provided you invest in quality. 

The Wall Street Journal reports that culture drives employee retention, more so than pay and benefits. In a 2024 study, over seventy-five percent of job stayers reported satisfaction with their company’s culture, while less than twenty-two percent of leavers reported the same. 

Can’t afford to invest in your culture? These data points suggest that you can’t afford not to.

Are you ready to invest in your culture? 

Stay away from the goofy catch-me-while-I-fall-backwards gimmicks and one-off “morale-building” picnics.

Your best option is to invest in programs that provide you and your employees with simple processes that you can teach, evaluate, and improve.

Most leaders use unconscious processes that work to varying degrees. Because you cannot teach, evaluate, or improve an unconscious process, leaders get frustrated that employees are not picking up what’s intuitive to the leader. Employees get frustrated that the leader expects them to be mind readers and is not giving them the tools to be successful. 

What would be the impact if you had simple, practical tools to build your leaders and culture? 

The best places to find them are in my trademarked programs Becoming a WHY Leader® and Building an Inspiring Culture®

Becoming a WHY Leader® is a video-based program that moves you from being a “Hands-On” to an “Eyes-on, Hands-Off” leader, which is necessary if you want to lead multi-unit organizations and inspire people to contribute their best to your team’s success. 

Do you want to create a culture where people voluntarily meet your standards and expectations? Building an Inspiring Culture® is a video-based program that outlines the process for doing so. 

You can engage in these self-directed programs at your own pace and order. Do you want to improve your self-awareness or strengthen buy-in? Go directly to the module you want, watch a short video, and apply the process visual to get results immediately.

Each program retails for $997 or $1450 for both. 

I am offering lifetime access to you for $297 each or $397 for both until May 15th.

You can enroll in one or both of them using these links:

Becoming a WHY Leader®:

Building an Inspiring Culture®:

Bundle It! Get both programs for just $397:

Do you want to license these programs for your organization? Send me an email, and we’ll set up a time to discuss.

Chris Kolenda: Unruly Student Protests Show the Price of Double Standards

Unruly Student Protests Show the Price of Double Standards

The universities that enforced progressive orthodoxy for years are seeing the fruits of their labor in unruly student protests. 

These protesters have taken over buildings, forced universities to cancel graduation ceremonies, barred Jewish students from campus areas, and issued threats of physical violence against them. 

One protest leader reportedly said to Columbia University administrators in January, “be glad, be grateful that I’m not just going out and murdering Zionists.” His outburst was tolerated; he was barred from campus months later when a video from the meeting went viral.  

Emotions are high on both sides of the Gaza conflict, and protests are a natural response to intense dissatisfaction. I’ve put my life on the line to defend America’s cherished right to air your views and protest policies you don’t agree with. I support the students’ rights to protest, and I disagree with how they are exercising them (especially considering the infiltration from professional agitators). Selective enforcement of the rules by university administrators created this disaster.

Many universities have bought into the crude bigotry that judges the worth of a person based on their membership in certain identity groups and created monocultures to enforce conformity. The intentional lack of viewpoint diversity has super-empowered favored groups, who’ve taken their license to its logical conclusion.

Viewpoint diversity is vital for a successful university as well as a successful business. The best companies encourage people to express their disagreements respectfully because you want people to flag problems before they become crises and offer fresh ideas that seize opportunities. If you only let favored people speak their views or shut down ideas you disagree with, you will soon find yourself trapped in a thought bubble, inhaling your own gas. 

The way forward for universities is to make sure protests meet three requirements: 

  1.  you may disagree agreeably – no intimidation or threats of harm to others
  2. you must allow all students to access campus facilities freely
  3. you may not impede university programs or functions

You can set similar rules for your business. Encourage people to disagree agreeably and give people the skills to receive new ideas and reports of problems with an open mind so everyone gets their ideas heard without fear of retribution. Prompt people to orient on your company’s common good (your mission and vision, goals and values, standards and expectations) so their disagreements create rather than impede progress.

These guidelines will help you maintain the healthy conflict that is vital to your company’s growth. 

Do you want to boost your company’s conflict management skills? 

I’ve helped motivate insurgent groups in Afghanistan to stop fighting and switch sides and even prompted the Taliban to write an open letter to the American people requesting peace talks. I’ve helped companies, nonprofits, and first responders move from intractable internal conflict to agreeable disagreement, dramatically improving performance, morale, and well-being.

Let’s set up a time to discuss whether strengthening conflict management skills would help your organization thrive. Simply send me an email or click here to find a time that works best for you. 

Chris Kolenda: Catch people doing something right.

Catch people doing something right.

Do you want to know the #1 secret to improve performance? Catch people doing something right.

I’ve led, been led, and helped leaders for over 35 years, and how to improve performance always leads to lively discussion. I began on the wrong side of it.

I used to think constructive criticism was a leader’s most crucial role. When you root out problems, you can solve them. Problems fester when you ignore them, and your organization will rot from within. Besides, why praise someone for doing their job and meeting standards when that’s what they get paid to do?

I focused my attention on identifying problems and providing corrective action. I started to notice fewer problems but more resentment. C’mon – you’re grown people. No one’s perfect. You should be able to take some criticism and drive on.

Then I met Sergent Cline. He was Europe’s heavyweight champion powerlifter and the gunner on one of our platoon’s tanks. We called him Tiny.

Tiny, did you check the engine and transmission fluids? I asked during an inspection.

Yes, sir!

Ok, let’s take a look. 

I jumped up on the tank’s back deck, pulled the plates, and checked the fluids. Good-to-go. No problems here. I was ready to move to the next item I wanted to inspect.

Sir, that’s pretty messed up. Tiny said.

What do you mean?

You asked me if I checked the fluids. I told you I did, and you then checked behind me. Either you think I’m lying to you or that I’m incompetent. 

I’m just doing my job inspecting the tank.

It’s not about the inspecting. We want you to do that. We love showing off how good we are. When you want to check something, just do it. Don’t ask me first if I checked it. 

I was inadvertently trying to catch somebody doing something wrong. It built resentment and undermined my relationships. That discussion happened in 1988, and I’ve never forgotten the lesson. 

Searching for problems is lazy accountability. We’re hard-wired as humans to detect aberrations. It’s part of our amygdala’s fight-or-flight instinct. Problems stand out to us. 

Of course, you want to nip problems in the bud, like Sergent Cline did with me, or they become habits and much more challenging to correct. 

Avoid treating the problems you find as buried treasure. Simply ask, “How will you do it better next time?” Get the people responsible for correcting the problem involved in seeing it and developing ways to fix it. 

It’s also easy to acknowledge someone doing something extraordinary and essential to appreciate it. The challenge with only praising extraordinary performance is that most people won’t face the same circumstances or have the same capacity. As much as they’d like to repeat the behavior, they probably won’t be able to.

Acknowledging and appreciating to-standard performance is the most mentally challenging because we are hard-wired to gloss over it. You have to seek out good performance intentionally and admire it. 

One way to do this is to highlight a particular value or expectation and seek evidence for it. Note when someone’s actions exemplify your standards. “Way to go, Joe. You treated that customer’s complaint exactly right. You gave your full attention so she felt heard and used your judgment to fix the problem.”  

Catching people doing something right is your most potent behavior-shaping tool. When you acknowledge and appreciate someone’s behavior, they will repeat it and so will everyone else. 

How well is this process working for you? Email me to let me know. I love cheering your success and helping you get over obstacles.

Did you know people read my newsletter over 50% of the time? I’m thrilled that you get so much value out of it. 

You can increase your value to others by sharing what helps you grow. Whether it’s this blog or another, share it and encourage your colleagues to experience what’s valuable to you. Sharing wisdom is like a rising tide lifting all boats. 

Chris Kolenda: What Golf’s Masters Tournament Tells Leaders About Hiring

What Golf’s Masters Tournament Tells Leaders About Hiring

You’ve told me that attracting and retaining talent is at the top of your concerns. The economy is in full employment, and people are less willing to job-hop, so gaining new talent is challenging. 

Widening the applicant pool by reducing your standards is tempting, but what invariably happens is that you get more wrong-fit employees, which creates friction and leads to more turnover. The U.S. Army relearns this lesson every generation.

You should do the opposite and strengthen them. The Masters shows why.

I confess that I’m not a golfer or fan of the sport. I calculate the value of a golf game in strokes per dollar (I get a great ROI) and believe in testing myself in the most challenging situations. My balls invariably end up in the rough, the sand, the ditch, the lake, and behind the largest trees. Watching the sport on TV is like watching paint dry.

Golf has strict rules, which the Masters in Augusta, Georgia, takes to new heights. You cannot bring your mobile phone or a camera onto the course. You can bring a chair to reserve your spot and not remove another person’s chair. Those chairs cannot have arms or be large folding chairs.

There is no running, no jeans, and no attire with logos. You must consume alcohol in designated areas, but you can puff on a cigar anywhere.

These types of rules are standards: something that anyone can live up to.

Arbitrary rules that deny membership based on race, sex, gender, etc., by contrast, are discriminatory. The Augusta National Golf Club has removed its discriminatory policies, allowing people of all races in 1990 and accepting women in 2012.

30,000 to 40,000 people attend the Masters tournament daily. Their standards attract and retain people willing to buy into them and repel people who won’t. 

People like working and playing with people who share the same standards, so if you want to attract and retain your best-fit talent you should strengthen rather than relax your standards.

Here are three action steps you can take:

1. State your standards using the X so that Y formula. X is the standard. “So that” is a prompt to ensure you cover Y: the result or outcome you intend by doing X. For the Masters the Y is “maintaining decorum.”

2. Use the pressure gauge to make them more explicit. This tool helps you define what is acceptable and what behaviors are out of bounds. Co-create them with your employees to gain greater buy-in.

3. Provide employee examples of the standards in action. Real-life examples help people see themselves in the story and clarify your company’s expectations.

Straightforward, sensible standards that obviously benefit your company’s common good attract and retain the best-fit people.

Standards are vital to your company’s common good, which is at the heart of my trademarked program, Building an Inspiring Culture®. You can review the contents here

CEOs use this program to get their key leaders on the same page. In the live-led version, I coach and facilitate your team so that you get results faster. Email me to discuss what a live-led version would look like for your company.