For ten days shortly before Labor Day, the entire country (and especially Chicago) was captivated by the story of the Jackie Robinson West (JRW) Little League team and their journey to the U.S Championship title and the World Championship final game. Part of the intrigue was the stark contrast between the positive news of this team of all African-American youngsters and the more common negative stories of violence from their neighborhoods. Another part of the story was the team’s success versus Chicago’s inept professional baseball teams. However, it was the values that these kids exhibited through their consistent behaviors that resonated with so many of us.

I have no idea if the JRW team had a written set of “core values”. What I do know is what we saw. We saw kids who played hard and never gave up. We saw kids who played and behaved with poise and grace in both victory and defeat. We saw kids with a great sense of personal accountability – when they struck out or “failed” in some other way, they would get mad at themselves, not at the umpire, the other team, or their coaches. We saw kids who were polite and respectful, a credit to the parents and coaches who raised them, and in contrast to some professional athletes who are so full of themselves (remember Richard Sherman after the Super Bowl?). These were children acting like adults, when we are more accustomed to seeing adults acting like children.

On a rare occasion when JRW player Trey Hondras celebrated a little after a home run against the team from Cumberland, RI, he actually went over to the opposing bench to apologize to Coach David Belisle and his players. (By the way, if you haven’t seen Coach Belisle’s moving speech to his kids after they lost, it is a must watch at http://tinyurl.com/laez76u).

Talk is cheap. Practice what you preach. Walk the talk. Actions speak louder than words. All of these are different ways of saying the same thing. What matters are the actual behaviors, not the words. It is very important to discover the core values of your organization, to write them down, and to communicate them frequently. However, if your people (especially your leaders) don’t exhibit behaviors in line with the core values, they will quickly be dismissed by your people as not worth the paper they are written on. Behaviors matter – that’s what we can learn from some 11-13 year-olds.