As you know, people do what people see. We can argue about whether that’s fair or not, but fairness is irrelevant to this conversation. Your people (whether you call them your staff, direct reports or employees) are, for good or for bad, a reflection of you.
So, based on your people and how they work/behave, what kind of standard are you setting for them?
- Do they do excellent work? Or less than excellent work?
- Are they self-reliant? Or do they keep coming to you for help?
- Are they excuse-makers? Or responsibility-takers?
- Do they show up on time? Or are they habitually late?
- Do they complete their assignments on time? Or do they consistently miss deadlines?
- Are they open to critique? Or do they become defensive?
- Are they insanely curious? Or content with what they already know?
No matter what the organization, you (or I) can usually size up the standard set by the leader of that business or organization simply by observing their people. In light of that, what kind of standard are you setting?
If you want to build a great company culture, one marked by excellence, then you need to make sure that you’re currently exhibiting the kinds of standards that great performers execute—one where they (as the great Dr. Julius Erving used to say), demand more from themselves than anyone can reasonably expect.
The Excellence Standard
One of the people who reminded me of the importance of this lesson was Carl F. H. Henry—one of the great theologians of the twentieth century—and the founder of Christianity Today.
Back in 1988, Dr. Henry, was present for a week-long intensive course at my seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. Knowing his background in writing, and desiring to write some day, I set up an appointment to meet with him.
When I walked into his office, he was pouring over a manuscript. I sat down and then asked him my big question. “As someone who aspires to write sometime in the future, what advice would you give me as a young writer?”
He looked at me and said, “Come over here.” I walked up behind his desk as he was pointing to the manuscript he was correcting and I was shocked. I had never seen so much red on a document in all of my life. Whole paragraphs were crossed off. Sentences red lined. Words circled. New words written above crossed out ones. Arrows pointing to new places. It was a bloody mess.
Then Professor Henry said something I’ve never forgotten.
“Bruce, this is my third draft.”
I was shocked. The great Carl F.H. Henry had just butchered his own third draft. He then went on to say the second thing I’ve never forgotten,
“You see, the difference between an amateur writer and a professional is that an amateur writes something and says, ‘Oh, that’s good!’. But a professional always thinks, ‘That could be better,’ because the essence of good writing is rewriting.”
And then came the clincher, the third lesson from this chance encounter.
“Bruce, the only thing that stops a professional from continually rewriting a piece he’s written is a deadline.”
It’s All About the Modeling
I’ve never forgotten that conversation. Dr. Henry was great, not just because he was brilliant, but because he demanded more from himself than others could expect from him (Note: he was also 75 years old at the time he was teaching me this lesson). No wonder he developed so many great writers over the years and created the foundation of a great company that’s endured now for over 60 years.
Dr. Henry demanded more from himself. He wasn’t content to “mail it in,” even at age 75. And because he lived that way, it was contagious. Everyone who met him knew he demanded excellence. It poured out of him. And because he modeled it day in and day out, he created a culture of excellence.
So, back to the original question, what standard are you modeling? If you want to follow-up on my last post about Building an A Level Team, then you’ll want to make sure you’re the banner carrier for excellence in your business or organization.
For good or for bad, as the leader, you’re the high level mark for excellence (or whatever other value you want to lift up). Everyone else will be south of your standard. So, if you want to build an A Level Team of people who produce excellent work, make sure you’re the Dr. Henry of your business.
Note: That also means that if you don’t like what your people are producing, you know where to start looking for the solution.
To your accelerated success!
P.S. To learn more about creating the right kind of culture in your business, and specifically, a culture of excellence, you’ll want to grab a copy of my new book, “Breaking Through Plateaus.” To learn more (and to grab your own copy), click here (www.BreakingThroughBook.com)