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Friday, November 12, 2010

Gibbs Rules – Leadership by the Numbers?

Leroy Jethro Gibbs heads up the high performance field team of misfits for NCIS. How does he get extraordinary results week after week? Rules, feedback, and required growth for his staff.

Gibbs, a former Marine sniper demonstrates his personal competence and skill through results – not the least of which was shifting from a loner to a leader. His band of 'unique individuals' include: a vain DiNozzo adverse to scutt-work; McGee – a tentative agent & computer geek; Ziva - a Mossad trained assassin; Ducky with his constant stream of inane facts; and Abby - a goth gal with a big heart. That aside, each of these folks is brilliantly competent and extremely dedicated to the success of the team in getting results – catching the bad guys. And, they would do anything for Gibbs.


Gibbs focuses on the talents and skills of the people on his team and expects the best from them at all times, regardless of personal foibles.

Gibbs has rules – he follows them and he teaches them to his staff. Short...Practical...Memorable...they are reinforced by Gibbs and by staff to each other. These rules are NOT written and posted on some wall or in a manual. They are shared as needed verbally. Gibbs says there are 51 rules and it is his job to teach them. In doing so he does not do their job for the staff nor tell them the one right way – to the contrary he presses for their view of the issue and how the team will solve it.

Gibbs puts each of his staff into challenging spots for growth and development – uncomfortable for them but shows they can do it. However, like a father running behind a child riding a two-wheel bike for the first time, Gibbs will appear and help out IF needed.

What keeps the rules alive is feedback – a slap on the back of the head as a wake up call and his acknowledgment of a job well done – WHEN IT IS – emphasize the validity of a rule.

Are the rules some kind of magic? Some secret of a world order? You decide – here's some of them:

Rule #1 Never let suspects stay together.

Rule #1 (yes there are two #1s) Never screw over your partner.

Rule #7 Always be specific when you lie.

Rule #9 Never go anywhere without a knife.

Rule #15 Always work as a team.

Rule #38 Your case, your lead.

Rule #45 Clean up the mess you make.

Rule #51 Sometimes – You're wrong.

And the unwritten rule is Family ALWAYS comes first!

Short – Sweet – To the Point... Applicable to the work they do.

Is this just a fictional account of a TV series or the chronicle of a true leader?

Do you know of a leader in an organization who is like Gibbs?

I would like to acknowledge the efforts of the many contributors to the collections of Gibbs Rules; here are several links for more details:

Comprehensive footnoted list -
Annotated list -
List with explanatory notes -

Other presentations you might enjoy:
Talk Your Business How to make more and better sales right away!
December 7th, 7:30am to 9:00, Intelligent Office, Alexandria

How to Scale Your Organization - Build, Borrow, Buy
Thursday, December 9th, 7:15am to 8:30, Intelligent Office, Rockville

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Thoughthebrowser said...

I liked the episode that shows where Gibbs got his rules concept. First time a very green Gibbs meets Shannon, who will be his wife, he asks her out. She asks him, "Are you a lumberjack?" He sez no and asks why?
"My rule is I don't go out with lumberjacks."

Cool post!

Unknown said...

Thanks, Dick.

A person for whom I have a great deal of respect often says - write it down or you are not sincere about it.

Gibbs rules are all verbal and not written down (except by the fans of the show) - they live thorough the telling - all verbal - all real - by Gibbs and by each member of his team...even a marine knows and can recite Rule # 23.

No question the verbal Rules are real. Things written are real once on paper or in a computer.

How to reconcile the two methods - it's real when retained and used - can be oral - told and retold with authority -or- can be written - then retrieved and acted upon.

Either is fine if it gets results!