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Why the Best Leaders Never Lower the Bar

The pressure was on. The ‘critical tasks’ list had piled up for the whole team and the deadline was quickly approaching. It seemed every single day the last three weeks were mission critical. It was late afternoon when I took a quick break to observe my team. What I saw was the opposite of a team motivated by our looming deadline.

My first reaction was to micromanage by restating the importance of our deadline, but I knew my team well at this point. That approach would do absolutely nothing but hurt. They are grown adults and the deadline was as important to them as it was to me. My next reaction was to do something I had done a few times before, but never worked in our favor and just lower the bar of my expectation of our work. But before I went down this slippery slope again, the words of Jon Gordon came to my mind:

“The best leaders hold their people to the highest standard in order for them to be at their best.”

If success is doing things you don’t want to do, now was the time for everyone on the team to step up and give their best, even in the face of mental and physical fatigue.

It’s a leader’s job to set the bar — what kind of effort, attitude and performance is expected on the team. Instead of considering lowering the bar during challenging times, here are some ways to ensure you never have to go there:

Be the Model

No one likes watching their boss take 50 days off a year when they are only ‘given’14. No one likes their boss to set strict 8AM-6PM working hours when the boss heads out at 4PM on regular basis. And no one likes to see their boss slacking during critical times when they are being asked to give everything they have. It’s the leader’s responsibility to be the model and set the standard to what they want their people to emulate.

Your people won’t expect you to be perfect. Jon Gordon told me on last week’s episode of the Follow My Lead Podcast, “Better people make better leaders. It’s all about the journey of oneself and then the impact you have on others.” Strive to be the model, and it will go a long way in getting the same type of effort out of your team.

Live with a Sense of Urgency

Brent Musburger, the famous sportscaster announced his retirement from live television in 2017 after over forty years in the business. His last comment before signing off for good was, “It’s such a short time span from your first job until social security. Make the most of it.” Think about that for a second. Someone who called thousands of sports games from the best seat in the house felt as if his career flew by. Have a sense of urgency while being completely present is critical to not only achieving your potential, but also enjoying life.

I have a sense of urgency about spending quality time with my kids because I know how fast time will pass. I believe waiting for someone else to tell you what to do or waiting for direction is one of the worst habits professionals can fall into. Urgency is a mindset, it’s being ready to go the minute you walk in the office door. By making ‘urgency’ a core tenant of your organization or team culture it will help keep the bar high.

Act with Heart

If you are going to keep the bar high it’s important you provide people the freedom they need to perform at their best. It could be as simple as knowing the pressure the team is under for three weeks, like in our situation, and then give extra time off when the job is complete. It could be letting the team work from home or surprising them with a gift card for a nice steak dinner with their spouse. The key is, your actions go beyond the desire to make a buck. Have empathy for each individual and consider the needs on your team. The only way you can possibly act with heart is by really knowing your team and spending time with them both at work and outside of work.

If you can do these three things on a consistent basis you should have no problem keeping the bar high and helping everyone on the team become the best version of themselves.

Weekly Leadership Newsletter – Sign up for LearnLoft’s free weekly leadership newsletter here.

Upcoming Leadership Book- FML: Standing Out and Leading Others is out February 24th.

John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft start your organizational free trial here. He is also the host of the Follow My Lead Podcast and is passionate about the development of modern professionals. You can also find him on instagram @johngeades.

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