It is one thing to deal with the disappointment of becoming the first team in ~50 years to lose a World Cup knockout game after going two goals up. It is quite another to follow that up with a spotless dressing room and a thank you note written in your host nation’s language (“Spasibo”).

Of course, the Japanese soccer team were not alone in doing this. Their fans (along with the Senegalese fans) had endeared themselves to the hosts by cleaning up stadiums after their games. I had two reflections from Team Japan’s behavior.

First, I’ve thought about the line “leave everything a little better than you found it.” That is very hard to do consistently. But, what if we at least held ourselves to the standard of “leave everything at least as well as you found it?” Would we waste less, recycle, and compost more?

Second, the behavior exhibited by the Japanese isn’t a result of inspiration leadership and great strategy. It is simply a cultural norm – “this is what people like us do in such situations.” It speaks to the power of setting cultural norms for ourselves, our families, and our teams. Culture is both strategy and leadership in the long run.