How much do people have to go through to be part of your team? Are you too rigorous, or too easy? And then once they are on board, are you easy to satisfy and generous with praise, or do you save your words of recognition so they have more impact when you deliver them? Just how high are your expectations?

The lure of the easy A

Remember the teacher in high school, the one where you knew that if you showed up for every class and raised your hand now and then you would be gifted with an A grade at the end of the semester? Although the A helped your grade point average, how much did you really learn in the class? Probably not as much as the students whose instructors were more exacting in their expectations. Some leaders (educators or businesspersons) are under the impression that they need to be liked by their students and their teams, and that the price for being liked is to grade on a curve, or to let the small infractions go.

If your business is going to be world-class you need more from your team members than merely a pulse or breath fogging a mirror. Each player needs to be in alignment with your company’s values, and also skilled enough to be productive. Each team member needs to be sitting in the right seat and doing the tasks where he or she can shine. Jim Collins said that good is the enemy of great. If you are not willing to stretch your staff (and yourself), and you’re thinking that you are doing “good enough,” you are leaving profit, employee engagement, and client and personal satisfaction on the table.

The easy A is all about the present – it doesn’t consider the long-term ramifications of actions – or of the missed opportunities for action. It’s a focus on temporary happiness or lack of open conflict rather than fuller satisfaction with a job well done. Rigor is fueled by the long view. It is focused on sustainability, of lasting success that is based upon a solid foundation.

Building the Future Now with Who What When

When you set clear expectations of Who is going to do What, and by When, you create the opportunity and the potential for performance. Perhaps that sounds a bit autocratic to you right now as you’re reading this. When you are the leader, ultimately the buck does stop with you, so you have ultimate responsibility for performance. You earn respect when you know what you are looking for. Early in the life of your business you are likely having to be the expert in multiple arenas, so you are the one who needs to know what comes next. You are The One who sets expectations.

As your business grows, the manner of developing the Who What and When gives you room to adapt:

  • When you make a WWW verbal contract with an individual they and you know exactly what to expect, and what the standards are. It relieves the two of you of misunderstandings. Ultimately both of you will know whether they (or you) did it, and whether it was done on time.
  • When you are working with a team, the team can enumerate the Who What and When. They build shared expectations, and spread the responsibility around. By the time your business is big enough for you to have a team, you need to be fully using the capacity and the capabilities of the team.
  • The report-out of the Who What When builds a bit of structure at the beginning of your team meetings, so they support forward progress rather than becoming mired in circular conversations or time-consuming rabbit trails.

Rigor and Continuous Learning

If your knowledge and that of your team is not keeping (or surpassing) the pace of your competitors, you are placing yourselves at a competitive disadvantage. What are you doing to make sure that you and they are staying current with industry and societal trends? One of your primary responsibilities as a leader is that of prediction, and continuous learning is a key tool to help you look forward and see where your company needs to go. You can get away without sharpening the saw – until you can’t anymore. And by that time it might be too late for you to catch up with whomever has begun to eat your lunch.

What are you doing to make sure that you are staying current? What opportunities are you providing – or practices are you expecting – for your staff to keep their knowledge fresh? Are you reading, going to conferences, hiring experts, attending industry association meetings?

As you found out in high school, the easy A only sounds good. The people who succeed over the long haul are those who are investing in the future with knowledge and accountability practices. And they are doing it routinely as part of the way they do business.