in: Career & Wealth, Leadership, Podcast

• Last updated: September 30, 2021

Podcast #561: Get With the Program

All of us are a part of teams at work and in our community. Even our families are teams. And most of us serve as both members and leaders of these teams. How then can we be our best in both roles?

My guest today has spent his career gaining on-the-ground answers to this question through his experiences as a Marine and special operator in the military and a leadership trainer of corporate and athletic teams as a civilian. His name is Eric Kapitulik, and he’s the founder of the team and leadership development company The Program and the co-author of a book with the same name.

Today on the show Eric and I take a deep yet punchy dive into the keys of team and leadership development, and how these principles can be applied whether you’re leading a family, a sports team, or a business. We begin our conversation discussing the biggest problems Eric sees in the teams he works with, why resolving most of these issues begins with the definition of core values, and how someone can figure out what their core values are. Eric then explains the difference between goals and standards and why teams should focus more on instilling standards and holding team members accountable to them. We then discuss the difference between being kind and being nice, why leading by example is insufficient, how Eric defines hard work, and the two excuses you need to eliminate from your life.

Show Highlights

  • How and why Eric started The Program 
  • Eric’s experience as a Marine
  • The biggest problems Eric sees with team leadership and cohesion 
  • Figuring out your core values as an individual and as a team
  • How do you ensure that your core values are actually your core values?
  • Using the values of The Program in your family 
  • The difference between standards and goals 
  • The consequences of not living up to standards 
  • Why the problems with “the kids these days” are actually your fault 
  • Why we’re afraid of holding people accountable 
  • Using accountability in a positive way
  • The difference between nice and kind, and why you can’t confuse the two 
  • Why leading by example isn’t enough 
  • What is the ultimate role of a leader?
  • Replacing “hard” with “challenging” in your vocabulary 
  • What does it really mean to “work hard”?
  • Two common excuses that need to be eliminated from your life (and overcoming the excuses people make for you)

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

 Book cover of "The Program" by Eric Kapitulik and Jake Macdonald.

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. All of us are part of teams at work and in our communities, even our families are teams. And most of us serve as both members and leaders at these teams, how then do we be our best in both roles? My guest today has spent his career gaining on the ground answers to these questions through his experience as a Marine and special operator in the military and a leadership trainer of corporate and athletic teams as a civilian. His name is Eric Kapitulik, and he’s the founder of the team and leadership development company, The Program, and the coauthor of a book with the same name. Today on the show, Eric and I take a deep yet punchy dive into the keys of team and leadership development and how these principles can be applied to whether you’re leading a family, a sports team or business.

We begin our conversation discussing the biggest problem Eric sees in the teams he works with. Why resolving most of these issues begins with the definition of core values, and how someone can figure out what their core values are. Eric then explains the difference between goals and standards, and why teams should focus more on instilling standards and holding team members accountable to them. We then discussed the difference between being kind and being nice, why leading by example is insufficient, how Eric defines hard work, and the two excuses you do to eliminate from your life. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at Eric joins me now via All right. Eric Kapitulik, welcome to the show.

Eric Kapitulik: Thank you for having me, Brett.

Brett McKay: So you’re the co author of a book called The Program, which I really enjoyed. But before The Program was a book, it was an is a business you started to train athletic and corporate teams on how to be good teammates and good team leaders. How and why did you start The Program, the business, and why did you turn the lessons you’ve gotten from your business into a book?

Eric Kapitulik: Yeah, thanks. Well, I was born and raised in Northeastern Connecticut. My dad was a policeman and my mom was a school teacher. I always start with them because we are all, I believe a sum of our experiences. But boy, I don’t believe in luck except when it pertains to the family you happen to be born into. And my parents were great parents and continue to have a huge impact on my life. But born and raised in Northeastern Connecticut, very fortunate. I was a three sport varsity athlete in high school, went on to play college lacrosse at the US Naval Academy. And then was commissioned as a second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. I served for eight years as both an Infantry Officer, and then in Marine Corps Special Operations as a Platoon Commander for fifth platoon, 1st Force Reconnaissance Company. After eight years on active duty, I was honorably discharged. I left active duty. I attended the University of Chicago graduate school of business, and then shortly thereafter founded The Program. And that was 12 years ago now.

Brett McKay: The Program, the company?

Eric Kapitulik: My company. When I first started The Program, I had the opportunity to work with Harvard men’s lacrosse. One of the last things I did in the Marines was I served as an Admissions Director back at the Naval Academy. And when I had just got there on that tour of duty, a couple of lacrosse players had gotten in trouble and the head coach at the time called me in my office and said, “Hey cap, can you come down here and just wear these guys out for a couple of days?” So every day when classes ended, I would get the lacrosse team and just work them out. I would do the workout with them, but just doing Marine Corps force recon type of workouts just to wear them out. Well now fast forward 10 years later, I’ve just founded The Program and the assistant coach on that team was just named the head coach of the Harvard men’s lacrosse team.

He called me one day and said, “Cap, I just took over one of the softest teams and the softest sports on the softest campuses. Hey, can you come down here and just do what you did with my guys? Do what you did with the guys at Navy years ago?” I said, “Yeah, sure.” So I went down there and that’s what I did. Now from that first team 12 years ago, The Program, our company has really changed. I take great pride in saying that I founded The Program, but I cannot say it quick enough that I would be out of business if it were still I. We have made it what it is. My teammates and I at The Program have made the company, The Program, what it is today. But from that first event I had called out as I was working out with the team, I called out their team captains just to lead a few of the exercises. And these are great young men, but they were just bad at communicating what exercises we were going to do and then leading the team.

So from that first event, I got the idea that, “God, I don’t think these guys really need another workout guy. At the college level, everybody’s got a strength and conditioning coach. But boy, they really need some help with leadership development, and the coaches do too.” Well, from that first event now 12 years later, in our first year in business, we worked with three men’s lacrosse teams. I called coaches I played for, or against, or with. Now after 12 years in business, we work with more than 160 collegiate and professional athletic teams and major corporations throughout North America annually. So it’s not beliefs, it’s what we know from working through our own personal experiences, but then also working with 160 teams a year are those keys for us to be our best. That’s what I wrote the book … My myself and my coauthor Jake McDonald, one of our lead instructors with The Program. What he and I wrote the book about, what are those keys to ensure mission success on a consistent basis?

Brett McKay: And what I love about this, The Program, is that you basically take the principles that you’ve been formulating and seen and showing people, and putting it in the book. What I love about this, it not only applies to sports teams or corporations, it’s applicable to families, people who are leaders in community groups, nonprofit organizations, it covers lots of domains.

Eric Kapitulik: Brett, you mentioned families. There’s no team I’m more passionate about than my family. So there’s never been a more true statement than little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems. Just as parents, as leaders of our family, if we address so many issues at a young age, they never manifest themselves as your children join other teams later on in life. I mean if anything, if you were to say, “From this book, who should read this book the most?” I would say the parents.

Brett McKay: No, I got a lot out of it. As soon as I finished the book last week … We have a family meeting once a week in my family where we go over what’s going on in our family schedule, and we also … my wife and I try to teach some sort of short lessons, usually five minutes. And I used the principle from your book. We’ll talk about it here in a bit, standards and goals. Difference between the two. And the kids seem to really-

Eric Kapitulik: Well, that makes my day to hear.

Brett McKay: Yeah. My kids seem to really resonate with that. Well, so let’s talk. You’ve been doing this for 12 years, during that time and we’re working with different teams and organizations, what are the biggest problems you see with team leadership and team cohesion over and over again?

Eric Kapitulik: Yeah. Well Brett, you just … I hesitate only because, boy, I wish it could be just one thing, right? Whenever a team is underperforming and somebody asked that coach or that business leader, or a parent, “Hey coach, what needs to change?” Well man, if it was just one thing, boy, we could do that real easy. We could do it right now. We can change that one thing. It’s usually a combination of things. But where we start and where we challenge people to start, if you want to have a world-class team, a world-class family, athletic team, school classroom, band, or corporation, start with having clearly defined core values. What does it mean to be one of us? Because that right there is what’s important to you. It’s the fiber of who we are, is just what are our core values as an organization? Whether that organization be a family, as I said, an athletic team or corporation. The reason why it’s so important to figure out what our core values are as a team is that … getting back to what you just referenced, standards.

Every team that we work with that we’re privileged enough to work with to include families, every parent gives their child goals. Every coach has goals. Every business leader has goals. We give our teams hundreds of goals, and we should because performance matters. Performance matters. My son comes home from school and tells me, “Hey daddy, we were taught winning, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose.” I go, “Whoa, hold on here one second. It doesn’t matter? So, you mean to tell me that when you are pinning somebody, when you wrestle …” He’s eight, “When you’re pinning somebody when you’re wrestling, it doesn’t feel any differently than when you’re getting pinned? Don’t tell me winning doesn’t matter. It matters, but not at the expense of our core values of being who we say we are.” As an example, the only thing I talked to my son … And my daughter’s two and a half and we’re starting to talk to her about it, but I dropped my son off at school this morning.

As I leave him, we go over, “Hey buddy, what are we going to be today?”, “We’re going to be selfless, tough, and disciplined, daddy.”, “What does selfless mean?”, “It means we put the team first.”, “What does tough mean?”, “It means we do what’s right, not what’s easy.”, “And what does disciplined mean?”, “It means that we do what we say we’re going to do.”, “Great. Have a great day, buddy. I’m proud of you.” Those core values … Yes, we’re going to talk to him about his report card, and his grades, and all of that. Yeah. But look, I would rather him be selfless, tough, and disciplined and take a really challenging class that he gets a B in, than just talk to him about getting A’s. Brett, I would say having clearly defined core values is just a must for consistent world-class performance.

Brett McKay: No, I can see a lot of organizations, I’ve seen it where they don’t even know what their core values are. And so it creates a lot … Your core values determine every other action that the organization takes, and when you don’t have those core values people on the team are like, “Why do we exist? Why are we even here? What’s the point of it?” And so you see disengagement, resentment. But as soon as you put those core values in place, people have a mission that they’re going to start going after.

Eric Kapitulik: That’s right. That’s right. And we feel that core values are even more important than a mission because missions can change. I mean, in the military, you’re given a hundred missions. They change constantly. Who we are, that’s the foundation. That’s the bedrock. That regardless of the mission, if we are this, we’re going to be okay. And by the same token, as you mentioned earlier, standards. Well, we give our kids lots of goals. “Hey, get A’s.” All of this stuff, but as important are what are our standards? Okay, goals are what we want to achieve. Standards are how we’re going to behave while we achieve those goals. Failure to reach a goal, we’ll re-attack it tomorrow. Failure to reach a standard, that carries a consequence because standards are just about behaviors. Being selfless, that doesn’t require my son Axel, to have talent.

Just scoring 20 points in a game, that requires some level of talent. But putting the team first, that’s just the choice he has to make. Well, if you don’t score 20, well, re-attack it tomorrow if that’s a goal for you. If you’re choosing to be selfish, okay, well then there’s going to be a consequence for that because you chose to be selfish.

Brett McKay: Okay. So your standards come from your core values. Let’s start here, how do you figure out what your core values are? I can see something going on there, you read a lot of business books about management’s like your mission statement. They’re your core values. And a lot of the times you end up picking core values that are more like window dressing, right? It’s like what you’d like to be, or what you’d like others think you have but aren’t really core values. So how do you ensure that your core values are actually your core values?

Eric Kapitulik: Yeah. Brett, thank you so much for asking that question. I can’t even tell you how often we’re walking into a lobby of a client, a new client and the first thing that we see are posters or signs up of their A, 14 core values. But by definition core cannot mean 14, number one. Number two, companies then define those core values to look like a wine reading list. Organizations try to be everything to everybody. Instead, determine what your non negotiables are. That’s core, the non-negotiables. Those non-negotiables are core values. What are our non-negotiables as a team? What it means to be us. Three, if you want to argue four things, okay, argue four. Realize there is a reason why there are three fire teams in every squad, three squads in every platoon, three platoons in every company, three companies in every battalion. You get the point. Our ability to control, but more importantly, remember groups of three is higher than four. So the way we can determine what those core values are, by and large, we are who we are by the age of nine and definitely set by the age of 12.

Now, yes, there’s huge great life, cataclysmic events that happen to some individuals where people change dramatically after that. But by and large, we are who we are by the age of nine, and definitely by the age of 12. So determine your core values, do everything you possibly can to determine what they are. What it means to be us. Or in the leader’s case, what it means to be you. Because what it means to be you ultimately is the core values of your organization. Thankfully once you do it, it’s not going to change every single year. You are who you are by the age of nine and definitely by the age of 12. How can you do it? There’s a couple of different ways. We provide one of those ways in our book, The Program. There’s a list of 40 different core values. What we suggest you do is just to take a look at that page, give yourself five minutes to select the 10 values that mean the most to you. Then at the end of those five minutes, then just stay focused on your list of 10.

Give yourself one minute to get rid of five of them, and make sure you put yourself on the clock because you want to feel pressure while you’re doing it. Then give yourself 10 seconds at the end of that minute, give yourself 10 second. And at the end of that 10 seconds when the buzzer goes off, you should have just your top three. Then take a few moments, look at your top three. Should three be four? Should four be three? Should you switch the order of them? That’s one of the ways to do it. Another way is to simply spend as much time as you possibly can thinking about who you are, what are your greatest strengths? Ask the people who know you the best, who love you the most. Maybe it’s a parent, a spouse, a business partner, a coach, your executive team. And just write down what you think it means to be you, and then have other people give you feedback. See if they agree with you or not. Those are a few ways to determine what our core values are.

But remember that our mission, your organization’s mission, can and probably will change. Who you are, doesn’t. The standards that reinforce those core values on a day to day basis, it’s simply not enough, Brett, to say … as I’ve been using the example of The Program, “Selfless, tough, and disciplined.” I mean, how often do we hear companies say, “Oh, we’re a family.”? Having “Family” written on a T-shirt does not make you a family, it means you have a T-shirt that has “Family” written on it. That’s true for any core value. Your culture is not what you have written on a poster, or sign, or a T-shirt. Your culture is who you are every day. We have to first determine what our core values are. The leader does that, but then we have to determine what the standards are that are going to reinforce those core values on a daily basis.

Depending on the team and a host of other factors, that could be the leader, the executive team, the coaching staff, and what we suggest is the team itself or at least the warriors on that team determining what the standards are going to be for the team that reinforce those core values.

Brett McKay: Oh, okay. So I want to go back to this idea of standards. I like this idea that goals are about performance. Standards are about behavior, your standards come from your core values. And you say that standards come with consequences, what are those consequences? Like maybe it’s in your own family where maybe in another organization.

Eric Kapitulik: Brett, we constantly hear from … I mean throughout North America. Not just the US, throughout North America. Everybody wants to talk to us about kids these days, and it always sounds like, “Oh, the kids these days.” And there’s always these hundreds of negative attributes about the kids these days, is we highlight to every single person that talks to us about that, “Stop blaming the kids. It’s our fault. The kids these days are no different than they were when we were the kids these days, when our grandparents were the kids these days. The kids these days are the same. Who’s different? We’re different. Parents are different. Coaches are different. Business leaders are different. Teachers are different. That’s who’s different. And how are we different? Again, just like when we were the kids these days, yes, we give our kids lots of goals, but never any standards. Standards again are behavior based. ‘This is how you are expected to behave. If you don’t behave this way, there are consequences.’ And no, it doesn’t mean, ‘Okay well, hey, you get another try at it.’ Or, ‘Hey, in three, two, one.’

No, we have goals and we have standards. ‘This is what you’re expected to perform. This is how you’re expected to behave. If you can’t do it, then again, there’s consequences. By the same token, if you do achieve what you’re supposed to achieve, but more importantly, behave this way, there will be benefits for you.'” All of us perform best within that structure. It’s our job as parents, coaches, teachers, business leaders to provide that structure to the kids these days. We don’t. We don’t. And it starts with parents. Parents are … I don’t want to say this as a generalization because, god, I have the privilege of coaching a couple sports that my son plays, and by and large I love the kids. And by and large I love their parents as well. But there are numerous parents that care more about being good friends with their kid than they do about being mom and dad. I want to have the absolute best relationship I possibly can with both of my children. That relationship is called dad, not friend. Maybe over time, over years it will evolve into that, but not now.

They’ve got enough friends, they’ve got one dad and one mom too. But what we’re talking about myself here, so they’ve got one dad and I’m going to fill that role for them. As their dad, I’m going to give them kudos when they’re behaving the way they’re supposed to behave, and there’ll be consequences when they don’t behave the way they’re supposed to behave.

Brett McKay: Well, I think one of the tricky things about standards and I think why people, parents, teachers, organizations like to talk about goals is because with goals, they’re easy to track, right? You either reach the goal, or increase a percentage, right? There’s a number you can attach to it. Standards with and around behavior, it’s a little trickier sometimes, right? How do you tell your son, your eight year old son, like, “Be tough.” Well, how do you know you is tough when you’re not with him all the day? What situation did he show toughness? How do you do that evaluation with either a family member or even a member on your team on whether they’re meeting that standard? That might be a little more squidgy than say a hard line goal.

Eric Kapitulik: Great question. Great question. Let’s talk about selfless. Before practice, whatever the sport, we talk about selfless, tough, and disciplined. At the end of practice, at the end of the game … at the end of a game, let’s use game because, boy, I’ve got a lot of examples of this. I’ve seen it personally countless times. Children come off the playing field, as soon as they come off the playing field parents are saying, “Oh my god, that was an amazing goal that you had. It was just awesome.” What do think your child believes you value? Their goal scoring, that’s what your child believes you value. Instead at the end of the game, when Axel comes off the field, we talk about, “What are we supposed to be out there, Ax?”, “Selfless, tough, and disciplined, daddy.”, “All right. What does selfless mean?”, “It means we put the team first.”, “Did you today?”, “I think I did, dad.”, “Okay. Tell me, how did you put them first?”

“Well, when I came to the sideline, when you subbed me out, I didn’t pout about it. I came to the sideline and I cheered for my teammates when I was on the sideline.”, “You did. Great. Great.” That’s how we reinforce standards.

Brett McKay: So just keep talking about … As long as you keep talking about the standard over and over, you just reinforce it over and over.

Eric Kapitulik: That’s right. And I feel that instead of having very … When we work with organizations, I’ll use companies or athletic teams regardless, their standards initially tend to be pretty nebulous. “Well, we’re going to give 100% every day.” Well what does that mean? I mean, if I show up to your practice, I might think, “Oh hey, I think they’re given 100%.” Another guy comes up and looks at practice and goes, “Oh my god, those guys are playing so soft today.” 100%, that’s pretty wishy-washy. What we say is with our standards, make them like your goals, make them quantifiable. Meaning tough. You mentioned tough. Okay. “Maybe a standard that reinforces toughness is we dive after every loose ball.”, “Oh, okay.” So then if there’s a loose ball and we don’t have the entire team on the floor diving for it, “Okay guys, we’re not being tough here. Here, look at the video. We say that the way we prove our toughness, our standard to reinforce toughness is we dive for loose balls. Did we?”, “No.”, “Okay, then we’re not being tough.”

Brett McKay: All right, so let’s recap here. So your organization needs core values. From those core values come standards, which are based on behavior. As you do set goals, those are based on performance. But the goals take care of themselves as long as you are doing the standards, right? That’s what you got to do. This reminds me of a Bill Walsh, his book, The Score Takes Care of Itself. You have this idea, it’s like you just focus on these points of excellence. As long as we do these things, the score’s going to take care of itself, they’ll be fine.

Eric Kapitulik: That’s right. And we do talk about goal setting in our book, but the truth is we just have never … in 12 years we’ve never worked with a team that doesn’t have goals. I mean, 100% of the time, every single team we work with has goals already. And yes, goals are important. It helps us win games. But standards reinforce our core values, and our core values define our culture. It’s our culture that allows us to consistently compete for championships on whatever our chosen battlefield may be.

Brett McKay: So in order to reinforce these standards and these core values, members of the team have to hold each other accountable. But as you highlighted in the book … and I’ve seen this in my own experience being parts of different teams, people are afraid of holding other people accountable. Why do you think that is?

Eric Kapitulik: Well, I think there’s a number of different reasons for it. But a couple, Brett, is, number one, poorly defined standards to begin. That what we suggest to teams … now look, this doesn’t work in … Depending on age and a number of different factors, you have to kind of massage this. But as an example, to the extent that you can let the team … The leader determines what our core values are. To the extent that you are able, let the team determine the standards that reinforce those core values. Let the warriors on the team determine, “These are the standards that I’m going to meet and that I’m going to hold my teammates to.” And then let them determine the standards. If they’re a warrior, warriors want high standards and they want to be held to those high standards by definition. By our definition of what a warrior is. They want high standards and they want to be held to those high standards. They want to have a consequence if they don’t achieve them, and they want a benefit if they do. Now, let them determine the standards. That alone provides ownership.

Therefore it’s not the leader standards, it’s the team standards. They own those. We always take care of things that we own better than things that we rent. Start with it, number one. Number two, as I said earlier, have very quantifiable standards. Not, “We’re going to give 100%.” No, if your core value is toughness, then, “Hey, we dive for every loose balls.” Okay, because it’s very quantifiable then if I see a teammate who’s not diving for a loose ball and I say, “Hey man, we got to dive for that.” Whether you’re out there playing or you’re on the bench, you can say, “Hey man, you got to dive for that.” And there’s no personal conflict of, “Well, hey man, you got to give 100%.”, “Well dude, I am giving 100%.”, “Well, I don’t think you are.”, “Well yeah, but I am.”, “No. No. No. The standard is dive for a loose ball. Did you dive?”, “No.”, “Okay. Then you got to dive.” So those things right there should help the issue of or the challenge people have of holding each other accountable, number one.

Number two, this gets back to, as the sooner you can impart this. If you’re a parent, do it as young as possible. If you’re a teacher, start to talk to your students about this. Coaches, same. Is in this Judeo-Christian Western civilization that we grow up in, we are taught, “Hey, be nice. Be nice.” And we agree with that. We should be nice. We should be nice to everyone, but don’t confuse nice with kind. Nice is saying, “Hello.” Being truly a kind of person, that requires sacrifice. We should be both nice and kind. It’s going to be uncomfortable to hold a teammate accountable on whatever the team you’re talking about that you’re on. But because it is uncomfortable, by holding my teammate accountable, what I’m saying is my teammate being the best that they can be., That is more important to me than my comfort. I’m willing to be uncomfortable if it helps my teammate get better. As we discuss at length, don’t ever confuse nice with kind or friend with teammates. Friends are nice people that you’re going to the movies with, teammates are kind that you’re willing to go to battle with.

It’s great to be friends on any team until being a good friend becomes more important than being a great teammate, then there’s an issue. We should all strive to be great teammates first, and great teammates are kind. Kind people sacrifice for each other, and that means holding each other accountable.

Brett McKay: Yeah, that distinction really stood out to me and I’ve been thinking a lot about it since I read it because like you said, niceness is usually about comfort. It’s about your comfort and the comfort of the other person, making sure everyone feels good. But kindness is about making people better, and that’s often, it’s usually uncomfortable.

Eric Kapitulik: 100%.

Brett McKay: And then the other part is accountability aspect that you talk about and you’ve seen in organizations is, well instead of holding people actively accountable, sort of saying to someone, “Hey, you’re not going to 100%.” What a lot of people do is, “Well, I’m just going to lead by example. I’ll show people and that will be enough.” But you think that’s not enough. Why?

Eric Kapitulik: It’s nowhere near enough. And every time we hear it from any leader, “Please stop saying it. You’re lying to yourself. You’re lying to your teammates.” That person leads by example. Typically, it’s somebody who prepares as best as they can, right? For athletes, they get as bigger, faster, stronger as they can in the off season. For corporate teams, man, that guy is so prepared. Every … Guy or girl, I’m using the universal term “guy” here. But, boy, that guy is so prepared every day that they show up, “He was so prepared, she was so prepared for that meeting.” They prepare at superhuman levels. They give 100% every single day. And when it’s their time to perform, they perform, but they’re just quiet. They don’t say anything to anybody, they lead by example. We take exception to that term 100% of the time. Every single event that we work or every single client whom we’re privileged to work with and we hear that, we say, “Stop saying it please, because those things are not leading by example. Those things are called setting the example.” And great teammates set the example.

We’ve got to be thumb guys first. We’ve got to meet the standards of the organization first. It’s the first standard of being a great teammate, but then great teammates hold their teammates accountable to achieving that same high standard. Usually leaders think back to, “Who was a great captain that we had? Who was somebody that really influenced me?” Well, if you yourself are a really hardworking person and you had a captain or a director of sales who worked incredibly hard and you say, “Oh man, that guy, he makes me work even harder.” Yeah, that’s because you’re already a hard worker. Lions just … I mean, this is in nature. Lions hanging out with lions, and zebras hanging out with zebras. So if you’re a hard worker and you happen to have a leader who is also a hard worker, yeah, you’re going to work hard. Maybe even you work a little bit harder, but that’s because at the heart of it, you are a hard worker. But leadership is not about that, leadership is can you get everybody to work hard?

And simply by you yourself working harder, think of any team you’ve ever been on that because the leader works hard, every single member of the team worked hard just because of it. You can’t think of an example of it, none of us have ever been on teams like that. There’s always been somebody who’s not working hard. Well, to effectively lead them, to challenge them to work harder, we’ve got to be able to effectively communicate as leaders.

Brett McKay: So this is part of being a team. So don’t just sit quietly and lead. That’s just a given. You have to set the example, set the standard, live the standard. But then if you see other members on your team not living up to that standard, you have to actively hold them accountable.

Eric Kapitulik: That’s right. And Brett, think about, we ask young people this constantly. We’ll take the guy on the team that the coach tells us leads by example. He’s just quiet, and he doesn’t say anything. We ask him all the time, “Hey, in high school, were you a screw up? Did you just slime through everything? Not touch the line, do fewer reps, miss workouts?”, “No. No. No.”, “No, you weren’t.”, “How about in grade school? Playing Pop Warner, the scumbag back then? Not do anything? Bad teammate?”, “No. No.”, “You’re right, you were probably the hardest worker out there, right?”, “Yeah, I was.”, “That’s right, because you’re a hard worker. That’s who you are. So working hard, even at superhuman levels, that’s not a sacrifice for you. It’s not a sacrifice, you’re doing what you’re good at. You’re inside your comfort zone even though most people might look at it from the outside and be like, “Oh my god, look at that guy’s work rate.” Yeah, maybe so, but you’re still inside your comfort zone. You’re doing the things that you like to do, it doesn’t require a sacrifice for you because it’s who you are.

Yeah, we’ve got a sacrifice. Great teammates sacrifice. And to sacrifice, you have to work hard to still meet the standards, but then hold our teammates to meeting that standard too.” Brett, the thing I would highlight though to you in, and I can hear myself saying it and it’s something I’ve got to continuously remind myself as a leader, is when we talk about meet the standard and to hold our teammates accountable to achieving it too, accountability always has such a negative tone in our society. And it shouldn’t. It shouldn’t. Accountability should be positive, even maybe even more so than negative. Yes. If somebody … Hey, we’ve got to touch the line. If somebody doesn’t touch the line, yes, hold them accountable. “Hey man, you’ve got to run back and hit the line.”, Hey, we’re supposed to make 30 sales cold calls today. If somebody doesn’t make 30 calls, “Hey dude, you had 29 the standard is 30 here. Make 30.” Yes, 100% when people aren’t meeting the standard, hold them accountable. As teammates and as leaders, look, look, find examples of teammates who are meeting the standard and hold them accountable for that as well.

“Hey man, that was awesome. You had a great workout today. We said we’re supposed to touch the line every time, and you did it every single time. Hey, we said we’re supposed to dive for loose balls out here. Look at your uniform, you’re covered in grass stains, or raspberries from diving on a basketball court. You’re covered in them. Man, that’s awesome. Hey guys, look at so-and-so.” That’s what we mean by tough. Look. Yes, if people aren’t going to meet the standard, hold them accountable. It’s going to help you get to where we want to get to quicker. As important is holding people accountable when they are meeting the standards.

Brett McKay: I think that’s an important point. It’s that idea with our sort of philosophy of parenting is catch your kids doing something good. Because it’s so easy as a parent always to hone in on the things they’re screwing up at. But you have to reinforce when they actually are doing something good and give them credit when they do.

Eric Kapitulik: Right. As parents, right. And again, I get back to the idea about I’m going to be … My son and daughter, I’m going to be their dad not their friend. I’m must love up on my children. I mean, they’re eight and two and a half. The number of kisses I’ve put on them have got to be in the millions already. I mean, that idea about being tough is nothing to do with love. We show how much we love each other. Show me a team that holds each other accountable, I’ll show you a team that loves each other or at least cares deeply. But if all it is, is always negative, people are going to tune you out. It’s just not going to mean that much. By the same token, if the only thing you’re ever saying is, “Oh, hey, that’s a great job. Oh my god, you’re the greatest. Oh yeah, that’s the best.” Guess what? You get tuned out eventually for that too.

Brett McKay: So let’s shift gears. So we recap here. We’ve talked about core values. You said standards that reinforce the core values. Team members hold each other accountable because they’re kind, not nice. I mean, they’re nice. But you always choose kindness over niceness when holding your team members accountability as you’re making them better. Let’s shift role to the role of a team leader. What is the role of a leader of a team? What’s their job?

Eric Kapitulik: Yeah. First and foremost, a leader accomplishes the mission. By that I mean a leader ensures the team accomplishes the mission. A leader isn’t necessarily the first one across the finish line. The leader, or great leaders at least, ensures their team gets across the finish line first. Now, they do so honorably with high integrity. I know that’s not always the case. But rather than focus on those individuals who act with a lack of integrity or a lack of honor, we focus on those that do because there’s many more examples of that. Plus, as a leader, if you are accomplishing the mission, but doing so with a lack of integrity or dishonorably, I don’t care who you are, it will catch up to you eventually. Leaders accomplish the mission and they take care of their teammates.

Brett McKay: And again, that means that oftentimes doing uncomfortable things. Having to tell someone they’re not living up to a standard, or it might mean firing somebody. Right? Because that’s what’s good for the team.

Eric Kapitulik: For me, it’s challenging for me. Brett, I don’t use … in our family, it’s one of the things we talk about. At The Program, we talk about. I discuss it in the book. We don’t use the term “hard.” I tell everybody that I’ve done one hard thing in my life. When I was an officer in the Marine Corps and my commanding officer approached me, he asked me if I could do him a favor. What he was going to ask me, you can’t be ordered to do. You have to volunteer for it. Well, I agreed and then that day I drove home from work, immediately put on my dress blue uniform, drove out to a family’s home. Drove up their driveway, parked, walked up their front stairway and steps, stood in front of their door and took a deep breath and then rang the doorbell. I had to stand there and wait for the door to be opened so that when it was opened by a mom, I could tell her that her son had just died in Iraq. That’s the only thing in my life that I’ve ever done that’s hard.

I’ve climbed Mount Everest, I’ve competed in and completed eight Ironmans, I’ve been in special operations. What we do on a day to day basis in our life is challenging, and warriors love a challenge. We want to be challenged. But by human nature, we just want to get through the things that are hard. Words are important because our thoughts determine our words, and our words determine our actions. I don’t have hard conversations, I have challenging conversations. I don’t have hard days, I have challenging days. If people want to talk about the death of a loved one, a sick child, spouse, and you want to call those things hard, you’ll never get an argument out of myself or anybody at The Program. But we don’t have hard conversations, we don’t have hard meetings. We just have challenging meetings, we have challenging conversations. As a leader, for me, those conversations are very challenging. I don’t like holding people accountable if they’re not meeting the standard. God, I lose sleep over it.

But if it’s in the team’s best interest, I have to. I have to have that conversation. Because ultimately as a leader, your performance is based on the performance of the team, not any one individual. Don’t ever forget it.

Brett McKay: So another thing that a leader needs to do to ensure that the mission is accomplished and that their team is taken care of, team first, is they have to work hard themselves, but also encourage others in the organization to work hard. But as you talk about in the book, everyone says that, right? Every motivational book says you got to work hard. You see it on Instagram with the hashtags, hard work, hustle. You guys in the program have a different idea of what it means to work hard or what hard work is. What is that?

Eric Kapitulik: That’s right, it’s our trademark saying, “Hard work is not what we do during our normal business hours. Hard work is not what we do during normal practice hours. Hard work is one more.” And we have to figure out what our one more is as an individual and as a team and make a commitment to doing it each and every single day. Take a team, you ask any team athletic team in America, “Hey, was practice challenging today?” Okay, maybe there are teams that say, “Oh no, it was pretty cool. We just went out there and chucked the ball around a little bit.” Okay, but that’s going to be a bad team. I’m talking about good teams, teams that are standing in the way of us in getting to where we want to get to. Getting to the mountain top. Well, those teams, when they show up at 3:30 in the afternoon for practice, guess what? Their coaches are going to make that practice very challenging. If it wasn’t challenging, it wouldn’t be a very good team. Everybody gives great effort between 3:30 and six o’clock.

Every athletic team, good team is giving great effort between 3:30 in the afternoon and six o’clock at night. Every team is. Giving great effort is not hard work. Hard work is do it, give great effort, and then do one more. Think about that thing that might be a negative in your game. Maybe you fall short a little bit. I don’t go left as well as I go right. My crossover’s good, but I’m not good off balls. Figure out what your one more is, what that discrepancy is, that deficiency is. And then … I don’t know, spend three minutes a day addressing it. Maybe it’s six minutes after practice, before the day starts. Maybe it’s at lunchtime, instead during your one hour break. Instead give five minutes, do your one more. Maybe it’s five minutes. Addressing that deficiency. Now we got to do it every single day because everything we do in life is habit forming. But those one mores add up.

Brett McKay: How do you do that with your kids? What does one more look like in your family?

Eric Kapitulik: I’m very fortunate that I have a great wife who’s my partner, who’s my teammate. And for our children, they’re very fortunate that they have a mom and a dad. Too much of dad or mom, they would be completely different people than what they are right now. As their dad, I think about myself now at 47 years old and I look at what I do for my one more every day. So you want to think, “Well, that’s what I did when I was eight.” No, it’s not. No, it’s not. We’re all a sum of our experiences as I said earlier, all of us are. So as we look at our children as they’re growing up, as we’re raising them, what we try to do as a family … and my wife tempers this with me, is … We’ll use wrestling practice as an example. Axel does wrestling practice. At the end of wrestling practice, one of the older kids, I ask Axel and this older kid, “Hey Ax, how about you just practice for five minutes? Here, I’m going to start my watch right now, buddy. Five minutes. Just practice for an extra five minutes.”

And then at the end of five minutes … and this is something I’ve had to work on for myself, when I get to the five minute mark, I go, “Okay, now I’m going to do six minutes.” And then the next time I go out there, it’s six minutes and I go, “Okay, well now I’m going to do seven. And I’m going to do eight.” And it’s always, it’s never good enough. I have to temper that with my own children because that can beat people down. I have to temper that with my company, with my coworkers, my teammates at The Program, is determine what our one more is. Communicate it, “Hey, at the end of practice, what do you think Ax? How much extra? We’re going to do something, okay buddy. That’s going to be a non negotiable. How long extra do you want to work at the end of practice? Every practice. Is it one minute? Is it two minutes? Is it three minutes?” And if he said, “Daddy, it’s going to be one minute.”

“Great. Great. Let’s do one minute, but let’s make it a great minute and we’re going to do it every single time.” And then when that minute extra just becomes the expectation, then challenge him again. “Ax, is still one minute good? Do you want to go to two minutes?” Talk about the importance of one minute going to two minutes, but get to the point where one minute becomes a habit before you go to two minutes. And when they give one minute, even if your child at the end of practice, only gives one more minute on top of their very challenging practice, make sure you highlight to them just how proud you are that they gave that minute, that they consistently give that minute. Because the truth is, Brett, most people … not kids, most people won’t. Most people at five o’clock when the bell rings, they grab their coat and they go out the door. That idea of doing one more has nothing to do with talent at all. Everybody knows it.

It’s just that little bit extra that we have to commit to doing every single day that adds up, that ends up, that will end up making us the most successful salesperson. In my child’s case, the most successful wrestler eventually. And still most people will never do it. So when you have a child … getting back to your question, who says, “Daddy, I just want to do one minute extra at the end of every practice.” And they actually do it, make a big deal about it because it’s more than most people ever will.

Brett McKay: One thing that I’ve been thinking about as I’ve been listening to stuff, this stuff, a lot of it is very simple. It’s things you’ve heard growing up, but people often give excuses as to why they don’t execute on it. In your work with organizations and leaders, what are the most common excuses you see people from putting the stuff into practice?

Eric Kapitulik: As we challenge, when we talk about having a no excuse culture, where it starts … And this gets back to accountability where we say, “Where does accountability go?” We have such a difficult time with teammates holding other teammates accountable, the root cause of that is because there’s a lack of personal accountability. If I tell this person to work harder, that means I have to be working as hard as possible or they are going to blow me off. And by the way, they should. They should blow you off if you yourself aren’t doing it too. But we don’t have great personal accountability, and instead we make excuses for why we’re not doing what we know we’re supposed to be doing. What we challenge people on, a thought, a suggestion that we give them is, “Don’t ever use kids or time as an excuse. Just get rid of those right now. Don’t ever say them ever again that, ‘I ran out of time. I didn’t have time, I didn’t …’ You cannot use time as an excuse ever again. Just don’t do it.

Try to figure out a different … I don’t even care if you give an excuse, but don’t make it time. And for parents stop blaming your kids as to why you’re doing or not doing something. Stop. Just do those two things. Make it a habit.” And again, everything we do in life is habit forming, so we have to make it a habit. And if we can just get rid of those, we will end up holding our own selves at a much higher level of personal accountability.

Brett McKay: But another tricky thing with excuses though, maybe you don’t make excuses for yourself, but other people make excuses for you. How do you overcome that?

Eric Kapitulik: Yeah. In our book, the way we wrote the book was really seven sections, and those seven sections represent the seven keys for creating and sustaining a world-class team. And one of those seven keys is no excuses. And what we do in every section is we take one of our teammates at the program, we use “their story” as the thread that holds that entire section together. Our teammate, Sam Cila, we use his story for the no excuses section. Sam Cila was in the army deployed to Iraq. An IED exploded near him. Ultimately, after more than 50 surgeries, Sam lost his right arm. Going through the surgeries … Well, the recovery, the surgeries again and again and again. We tell a story about Sam being at a Chinese restaurant where there’s a hibachi stove. All of a sudden his wife can smell flesh burning. Sam can’t feel his finger has hit the hibachi. He can’t feel his hand. We tell those stories. We tell Sam’s story ultimately with him losing his right arm.

And along the way as Sam is wallowing in grief and self pity on a cocktail of painkillers, and he’s surrounded by the people who love him the most, saying, “Ah, but he lost his arm. He got blown up. God, he was in Iraq when it happened. Oh boy. This guy, this is what happened to Sam.” And it comes from a good place. It’s coming from people who love us dearly. If we’re going to be the best versions of ourself, not only can we not make excuses, but surround yourself with people who don’t make excuses for you. It makes it too difficult. Those people that are making excuses, although it may be coming from a good place, they’re making it too easy for us to accept those excuses. Instead, surround yourself with great … this gets back to friend or teammate. Instead, surround yourself with great teammates who set high standards and then demand them out of you regardless of whether you have two arms or one. Regardless of the challenges that you are faced.

Brett McKay: Well, Eric, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about the book and your work with The Program?

Eric Kapitulik: Yeah, thanks so much Brett. I really enjoyed it and I hope your listeners find it interesting and also applicable in their own lives, but thanks for giving me the opportunity to speak with you. To find out more about The Program and to order The Program book, recently released Program book, people can go to our website at

Brett McKay: Awesome. Well Eric Kapitulik, thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Eric Kapitulik: Brett, thank you. Likewise. Really appreciate it.

Brett McKay: My guest, it was Eric Kapitulik. He’s the coauthor of the book, The Program. It’s available You can also check out his website, to find more information about his work. Also check out our show notes at where you find links to resources where we delve deeper in this topic.

Well, that wraps up another edition of the AOM podcast. Check out our website at, where you can find our podcast archives and thousands of articles written over the years about leadership development, or be a better team player, things like that. And if you’d like to enjoy ad-free episodes of the AOM podcast, you can do so on Stitcher Premium. Head over to, sign up, use code Manliness. Get a free month trial. Once you’re signed up, download the Stitcher app on Android or iOS. You can start enjoying ad-free episodes of the AOM podcast. And if you haven’t so already, I’d appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher, it helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member who you think would get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support. Until next time, this is Brett McKayreminding all of you who listen to the AOM podcast to put what you’ve heard into action.

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