Against the Grain: 5 Steps to Leadership

Wow, did someone in the public eye really just buck current societal norms by drawing a line in the sand??? Now that’s leadership. Read on …

sand final

There is an NCAA coach who—while seeking victories—finds victory in teaching discipline, respect for others, and self-control to his players. His name is …

… Josh Pastner.

Coach Pastner, University of Memphis men’s basketball coach, recently did something rarely seen nowadays:

He suspended a player for cussing.

Yes, you read that right. The article is here.

In Coach Pastner’s own words …

Dominic is a good kid,” said Pastner. “but there are some things that I just won’t tolerate. I don’t talk that way, and I don’t want players talking that way. My job is to coach Dom, and to love him, but with love comes discipline, and if a few extra wind sprints in practice didn’t teach the lesson, maybe this suspension will.

One doesn’t need to agree with Coach Pastner valuing clean language (for full disclosure, I do) to learn from him. He clearly shows each of us how to lead …

Five Steps to Leadership

Step 1: Define Values

Values are principles, ideals, and behavioral norms that I’m willing to “fall on my sword” to defend. Coach Pastner has clarified and decided what he believes.

Step 2: Establish Standards

From my values flow my standards of behaviors that if I break I would feel guilty. Coach Pastner chooses to not use four-letter words and does not allow them to come from his players. It’s what we call an “absolute” in Parenting the QBQ Way (PQW). 

Parents, have you defined your absolutes? Not doing so leads to weak parenting.

Step 3: Communicate Standards

A leader’s standards are never secret. Surrounding every leader are people who know exactly what their leader stands for. Nobody needs to guess, for they have been told.

Step 4: Enforce Standards

It’s not a standard if it’s allowed to be broken. A standard enforced is a leader’s line in the sand.

In PQW we write about Marie, a mom, who communicated to her teen son that there would be no driver’s license until his grades improved—and then she stuck to it. We call that “doing the hard stuff” of parenting.

It’s also called … leadership.

Step 5: Stand Alone (if necessary)

If I need to win the favor of others, I can never lead. It’s impossible to lead from within the pack. standHow many Memphis fans, players, and members of the press thought Coach Pastner did the wrong thing? I bet a whole bunch. But he did it anyway. 

[Tweet “A leader is not afraid of standing alone.”]

Thank you, Josh Pastner, for a pure, practical, and powerful lesson in leadership!

So, the questions that help us put this altogether are … 

Have I defined my values?

Have I established my standards/absolutes?

Have I communicated my standards/absolutes?

Do I enforce my standards/absolutes?

Am I willing to stand alone?

Let’s each work on answering those questions today, because becoming a leader is a worthy goal.


Do you believe Coach Pastner made the right call?

Which of the 5 steps to leadership do you need to work on first?

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17 Responses

  1. Love it! I need to make sure my standards are clearly articulated, not just clearly in my head. Never easy to do as a parent, even more difficult I’d say in a professional setting. My son did not play lacrosse for an entire season because he thought homework was unimportant – his test grades were no rationale for breaking the rule. I am more stubborn than a 15 year old, and homework is now done, on time.

  2. I believe he did the right thing. Cussing is a huge problem (and I’m guilty of it myself sometimes.) The thing is that because it has sadly become the “norm” for many individuals, they don’t respect when it offends others. I feel that you need to be courteous of who you are with. If the player was told that cussing isn’t allowed there and chose to do it anyway, then he should be reprimanded for it. It’s not just about abiding to rules, but the coach is teaching him about respecting other’s opinions and that it’s not always about you.
    I believe that I need to work on #2, establishing my standards. I know my values but sometimes I waiver on enforcing them because I don’t want someone to be angry, or, I feel bad for their situation. I just need to stick to my guns!

  3. I’m very proud of coach Pastner. As a former coach and still a teacher I appreciate his willingness to stand his ground. Every day I’m challenged by kids who want to push the limits. It’s clear to me that my unwillingness to change my standards allows me to maintain control and the respect of my students. Comments like other teachers let us do it and we don’t do it like that in so and so’s class are met with the standard “We are not in so and so’s class, this is what we do in my class.” My oldest two children who I had he opportunity to teach in my 8th grade class talk about how teachers allow students to cuss in class in high school. I’m shocked that any teacher would put up with that behavior. We owe it to our students to set the bar high not only in regard to academics but also in regard to their personal behavior.

  4. Maybe if more coaches (all of us in our varied positions) did the same thing there would be fewer athletes (for that matter anyone) in trouble with the law. Anymore there are no absolutes, everything is relative, and our “rights” have trumped what is RIGHT. It is time we stood up for common decency in speach and actions.

  5. Even if the “leash wasn’t short” if the expectation had been clear, kudos to Coach for sticking to his principles. Also, kudos for holding himself and players to a higher standard than is the norm. Related case in point – I’ve always appreciated Coach Krzyzewski of Duke and his drive to win and ability to produce… but heard him at practice and he curses… well, he curses a LOT. I did lose a little respect for him when I saw that was the only way he knew how to communicate.

  6. Yes, absolutely the right thing. I find using the language “that behaviour is completely unacceptable and I will not tolerate it” very liberating!! My child responds well as I am very clear. I also find myself “coaching” other people’s children and make no apologies for it – house rules are house rules. Fortunately, my friends have similar values (probably why we are such good friends) so there is never an issue with coaching.

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