A Leader Gets What They Exemplify And Tolerate

When I say “E.T.” people automatically think of the movie E.T. by Steven Spielberg. What I mean is that a leader gets what they (E) exemplify and (T) tolerate. It ties into the law of limited performance. People soon discover the level of performance you will settle for as their leader and then they gravitate to that level and that’s the toleration point.

Now as the leader what do you tolerate? As you have high expectations for others and are not going to tolerate anything below that expectation, you will help that person reach their goals.

I remember when I was in college, I’m embarrassed to say, but my first week of class my objective was to figure out what the toleration level was of that professor, what their expectation was of the student (what you could get away with). We’ve all been there whether it be a coach, teacher, parent, boss, an employer and business partner, you name it, we are always in this gauging of what is maybe the least amount of input we can put in to get the maximum output. The path of least resistance, which is the way we are hardwired.

So I am embarrassed to say that I would go into class and let’s face it, some teachers were more demanding than others, some coaches, some employers, you name it, fill in the blank, some captains, some teammates, whatever that level of expectation was you somehow figure it out and you rose to it. As I mentioned earlier there were times that I would get A’s in classes but they weren’t very challenging but then there were times when I got C’s in classes where the professors were demanding and I worked very hard and I actually felt like I had accomplished something. I had to fight tooth and nail for that C+ but the A was almost given to me and leaders have to recognize that.

What is a leader’s toleration level? For example, if we are not getting the results we want at times it’s a mirror test, let’s look in the mirror and see what is the level of expectation that we established? We might be the problem. The reason we are not winning, the reason we are not hitting those goals, the reason we are not hitting our quarterly projections, the reason we are not getting that certain thing is because we haven’t established a strong enough level of performance. We are tolerating behaviors, habits, attitude, effort, and the goals required to hit those things.

An example of this I have seen is by a gentleman by the name of Jaime Escalante and they made a movie about him in the late 80s, Stand and Deliver. Edward James Olmos played in the movie. It was a true story; Jaime was a math teacher in Garfield High School in East Los Angeles. The school was literally failing, they were thinking of taking the school’s certification away because the students were scoring so low on the standardized tests. Escalante actually had the courage to build a mathematics program where the goal was to get students at that high school prepared to take the advanced placement calculus test.

Now, less than 1% of all students nationally get college credit because they pass the advanced placement calculus test, so this is pretty tough stuff here. And this was at the poorest, most challenged school districts in the country but this guy had a mission. He said; I believe because the students will gravitate to the level of expectation that I lay out. So he told the students that this is the journey they were on and they paid the price, made the sacrifices, they went before school, they went after school, they spent summers taking math classes and in 1982 they had 18 students pass the advanced placement calculus test. It was more than any other school in the state of California and because of that it was assumed they had cheated. “There is no way that kids from this school are passing this test better than the private schools, it can’t happen.” So they actually made the students retake the test and they all passed again.

The story continues, in 1987, 87 students in that school passed the advanced placement calculus. What a beautiful example of setting expectations and it truly is building a high performance, no excuse culture.

That’s what leaders do; think of ET, they get what they exemplify. What do leaders exemplify in their own lives? Do they have the right attitude? Do they put forward the right amount of effort? Do they lead by example in their actions, thoughts and words? And when leaders set expectations, draw lines and don’t tolerate things below those lines they create a high performance, no excuse culture where they can literally change people, change environments, and change results for the better.

One of my personal heroes is a gentlemen whose name is Maury Stewart and he is a legend in the insurance based financial services industry. Maury has truly lived a life of significance. My life is better because of Maury, much better, for that matter because Maury did something very special over 50 years ago. He hired and mentored my mentor Phil Richards. Without doing that I would not have been mentored by Phil and I cannot imagine my life without either of these 2 gentlemen. Maury said something years ago that has always stayed with me and I think of it often. Maury shared that “always remember that you might be the only bible someone reads today.”

Maury is a spiritual person, however regardless of one’s level of spirituality or religious beliefs or views, one can understand the nature of this incredibly powerful message. The message is simple—YOU are the example for others. That is what leadership is about. Whatever you exemplify, whatever you tolerate will become your legacy.

Maury is a perfect example of a leader exemplifying the life someone can lead. The people Maury has mentored and the impact they’ve had on the world has cast a ripple on so many lives it is simply remarkable. Many people in this world are better off because of Maury and they will never know his name.

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