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Requirement or Preference?


Phil Jackson, the Hall-of-Fame NBA coach (Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers) was once asked about one of his players. He was asked if he minded what hair color Dennis Rodman had. Coach Jackson replied that it was Dennis' preference what hair color he chose but it was a requirement he plays defense and rebound. It might not be what hair color Coach Jackson would choose but he honored his player's preferences. The requirements are not negotiable so he focused on coaching his players to be great at those. Hair color didn't have an impact on their winning games but rebounding did.

Requirement vs Preference

Laws, rules, and regulations outline requirements. Policies, instructions, and guidelines outline preferences. The former is harder to change while the latter is easier as we adapt for continuous improvement. After all, nothing is totally right/wrong, either/or, there exists nuance with different perspectives. In all situations, each of us has a choice. The choice to do the right thing according to our values and beliefs. We're human, we will make mistakes. Hopefully, the choices we make will include others' perspectives so we land on a decision that's best for the team. It won't always be what's best for us or certain members of the team. If it's good for the team it's the best decision.

We won't always have the education or training for every situation. It will be our strong values and character that will carry us through. Remembering this framing can help remove some personal bias in the decision-making process. Concentrating on the requirements adds constraints that will allow a collaborative layering of creativity and imagination for a great way forward.

Have the courage to stay in integrity with yourself. Seek collaboration through honest & respectful communication. Let the requirements be what they are and honor the preferences for yourself and others. In this way, you'll remove fear from the room and bring the team together. Keep leading!

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This technology is supported in part by New Technologies for Ag Extension (funding opportunity no. USDA-NIFA-OP-010186), grant no. 2023-41595-41325 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Extension Foundation. For more information, please visit You can view the terms of useat

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