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Every Sunday morning, my five-year-old son Axel, my wife and I stop at the Dunkin’ Donuts in our hometown on our way to Axel’s hockey practice. We purchase five chocolate-glazed Munchkins.
Prior to the start of practice, we review how Axel can “earn” each Munchkin at practice: the first is for being tough, the second is for working hard, the third is for saying please and thank you, and the fourth is for making it fun. (Not for having fun, but rather for making it fun. It’s his job to make it fun, not the coaches!)
He earns the Munchkins through his behavior, not his performance. Performance requires talent. Behavior only requires a choice.
On the drive home after practice, Axel will immediately ask if we can “do the donuts.” I pull the first one out of the bag and ask him what it’s for. He responds, “For being tough.” To ensure he understands what tough means, I ask him how we define it, to which he responds, “When you are tired, you keep going — and you do it with a good attitude and while sharing positive energy.”
I then ask his mom (my wife) if Axel was tough; she provides feedback to him. Axel is then asked the same question and is given an opportunity to tell us if he believes he was tough. Finally, I provide a few examples of his being tough (or not). If he was, I hand him the Munchkin, which he promptly eats in one bite.
Contrary to what Axel’s grandparents think, there are, in fact, times when Axel doesn’t show great resiliency or toughness (i.e., he chooses not to share positive energy). On those Sundays, he does not receive the toughness Munchkin. If this were not the case, if he always received the Munchkin, they would cease to have any value.
Remember this as a parent. I challenge you to do so as a business leader, as well.
Our family repeats this process for the next three Munchkins. When we get to the fifth Munchkin, I ask Axel what it is for. He responds without hesitation, “Because my mom and dad love me so much.” I explain to Axel that the first four Munchkins he must earn, but the fifth one he will always get because regardless of how he behaves (or what he accomplishes), his mom and I will always love him.
Then, and only then, after discussing his behavior, do we discuss his performance (and often, we don’t). How he performs is a byproduct of how he behaves. This is true for all of us. As a leader, I must consistently reinforce the importance of the behavior rather than its byproduct. All leaders should.
Many don’t. Instead, they focus solely on individual and team performance, the achievement of their goals. And this is a mistake. This is not to say that performance is unimportant, though, quite to the contrary. In the short term, our organization’s financial health is ensured by our achieving our goals. We understand this, though, and because of it, every team has them.
However, world-class teams (families, schools, athletic teams and corporations) have goals and standards. Goals and standards combine to provide structure; we all perform best within one. Not a militaristic left-foot-right-foot structure, but rather a structure outlining how we are expected to behave (our standards) and what we are expected to achieve (our goals) by doing so.
As previously stated, achieving our goals ensures the financial health of our organization in the short term. Always remember, however, that it is consistent behavior (achieving our standards) that ensures not only short-term performance but also consistent high performance in every term.
Unfortunately, although every team has goals, few also have standards. Far too many leaders and teams fail to consistently communicate, embody and reinforce the behaviors that ensure performance goals will be consistently met. They lack standards.
Finally, as important as it is to have both goals and standards, it is equally important to recognize our team’s achievement of them. As it pertains to our performance, to our achieving goals, we understand this. Often, it is done systemically (greater salary, extra bonus, etc.).
However, we must ensure that recognizing the meeting and exceeding of standards is also done systemically, as it is even more mission-critical to our success than doing so for our goals. Remember, our performance is a byproduct of our behavior! We must not only celebrate great performance, we must also celebrate the behavior that ensures it. We must provide our own chocolate Munchkins or something equally impactful for our own organization.
Most importantly, always remember to give a fifth donut. Axel always receives one from his mom and me. He knows that we will always love him. Always.
Do your teammates?
As we enter 2022, I challenge you to commit to ensuring they do. If you need help doing so, I know a Dunkin’ Donuts ...
Eric Kapitulik is the founder and CEO of The Program Leadership LLC, a team-building and leadership development company for collegiate and professional athletes and corporate teams. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, he served eight years in the U.S. Marines as an infantry officer and special operations officer with 1st Force Reconnaissance Company, 1st Marine Division. Kapitulik graduated from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business in 2005. In addition, he was the keynote presenter for the 2021 AIM/R annual conference in San Diego.