Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Lowering the Standard

Early in my military career, as a new cadet at West Point, my leaders shared this piece of wisdom:

"New Cadet, never walk past a mistake. If you fail to make a correction, you have just set a new standard."

As leaders, we get what we settle for. If we don't make it clear that behaviors are unacceptable, we are giving tacit approval to continue. If we are not willing to risk personal discomfort to let others know that they are messing up, then we are messing up.

Think about how many times this week you have told someone it is okay to:

-- Verbally abuse a co-worker or subordinate.
-- Fudge on timekeeping.
-- Fail to meet commitments.
-- Sleep in meetings.
-- Steal from the office.
-- Speak negatively about a customer.

"Wait a minute," you say. "I would never tell anyone that it is okay to do those things."

But the fact is, we do when we allow mistakes to go unchallenged. When we don't call out our subordinates, our peers, or even our leaders to tell them that they are coming up short, we are giving the green light to that behavior. When we conduct counseling or performance reviews and gloss over shortcomings, we are encouraging subordinates to continue along their current course.

We do it every day. And each time, we lower the standard just a little more.

Make the correction. That's what leaders do. That's Leader Business.


Andres V Acosta said...

"Never walk past a mistake". I love that advice, especially the call to apply the same standard to peers and even our own leaders. It takes courage and some finesse to tell your boss he's slippin', but it's the right thing to do.

Tom Magness said...

Even with peers and subordinates...this is never easy. No doubt -- courage is such an important element of leadership. Thanks for stopping by, Andres. TM