Articles

The World Belongs to the Happily Discontented

September 07, 2017 - By Ian Munro, Director, B Bus Sci (IS Hons) M Com (IS)

Good leaders make it their business to continually raise the bar or reset and implement standards of excellence. In doing so, they are practising “tough love”. They are challenging their people not to remain in their comfort zone, not to let standards deteriorate or slip over time, nor to accept that the current is “good enough”.

As soon as they have achieved a certain standard they replace that standard with a higher standard which they then relentlessly seek to achieve. Their goal is not to be better than the rest, or to be able to say that “OUR standard is THE standard in the country and throughout the WORLD”. Their goal is simply to continuously strive to be better than they were before.

This is because they know that the world belongs to the “happily discontented” – to those who focus on perfecting process over outcome. They know that a relentless lifting of standards is the bedrock of both individual and organisational excellence.

Raising the bar is neither automatic nor spontaneous. It only happens when the leader deliberately and diligently does all of the following:

  1. DEFINES the standard or clarifies what excellence in either behaviour or performance looks like. This requires an ability to imagine a higher standard – what better and preferably much better looks like. Simply clarifying the standard is sometimes enough for the standard to be adhered to.
  2. ROLE MODEL or exemplify the standard or a close approximation of it. There should be no doubt that the leader would not consistently demonstrate the standard that he/she expects. Failure by the leader to set the example dramatically decreases the possibility that the standard will be implemented. People also lose respect for those who do not “live” the standard they call on others to adhere to.
  3. COMMUNICATE the standard and the “why” behind the standard, not by email but face-to-face. Communicating means more than just telling, it also requires listening and enquiring to ensure that the message is being heard. In most instances, communication of the standard needs to happen more than once.  At the same time, repeatedly reminding people of the standard should be avoided – they stop listening.
  4. UNDERSTAND or have empathy for what might hinder or conversely reinforce adherence to the standard. To do this, leaders need to “walk in the shoes” of those who are required to meet the standard and seek to understand the environmental factors which are at play as well as people’s ability and willingness to meet the standard.
  5. ENABLE ABILITY to meet the standard. People won’t rise to higher levels of performance unless they have the requisite skills to do so. For people to change with respect to behaviour, they need to know the “why” behind the expected behaviour.
  6. PROVIDE THE MEANS that people need to meet the standard, bearing in mind that there is a difference between genuine means constraints and excuses for not meeting the standard. Means include both tangibles (tools, resources etc) and intangibles (freedom to act, authority, time etc.)
  7. HOLD PEOPLE ACCOUNTABLE for meeting the standard, ensuring that there are positive consequences for those who meet and exceed the standard and negative consequences for those who fail to do so despite having the requisite means and ability.

All seven steps are required; none are more important than the other.  At Legitimate Leadership we have always been able to attribute non-adherence to standard(s) to a leader’s failure to effectively carry out one or more of the seven steps to world-class standards. Similarly, wherever we have witnessed organisations where the bar is being raised successfully, it is because the leaders in the organisation are demonstrating, clarifying, communicating and enabling adherence to ever more exacting standards.

Ian Munro
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