As a leader, what expectations are you putting forth? Everybody is going to rise to the level of expectation set forth by their leader. If on the first day of practice, a cross country coach tells his runners that they’re going to run 5 miles, that’s how far the runners will go. If that coach says that they’re only going to run 2 ½ miles, that’s how far the runners will go. If there is a low level of expectation, there will be a low level of performance. If, however, the leader holds her organization to high expectations, they will give her good results.
Do not impose your personal limitations on others. Just because you think you can’t accomplish something doesn’t mean that you can’t help someone else accomplish the same thing. Great leaders recognize this. Going back to the thermostat versus thermometer—great leaders recognize that they have to be the thermostat and set the expectations at a high level, because people will rise to whatever level of greatness they are surrounded by.
A big challenge in leadership is balancing big aspirations with reality. For example, a mother taking her four year old son to swimming lessons for the first time and saying that he is going to win Olympic gold. It’s great to have such high aspirations, but her son has to take a lot of steps first. Most importantly, he has to learn how to keep from drowning.
The main challenge is not being realistic with goal setting, but determining what goals to set. You have 3 goals. The 1st goal is the objective, or the minimum accepted level. A student might set his objective at a 3.0 minimum GPA. That is his minimal accepted standard. If he does not reach that, there will be serious consequences. If he does not reach his minimum GPA, he will most likely reevaluate what he is doing. The 2nd goal is called the goal. The student’s goal is a 3.5 GPA. The 3rd goal to set is called the BHAG, or Big Hairy Audacious Goal. For the student, the BHAG is to graduate with honors with a 3.8 GPA. So he has 3 goals he’s shooting at – 1st, the minimum, the objective, 3.0 GPA. If he doesn’t reach that, he has to stop and wonder why he is even in this field of study, or why he’s in college at all. Next, his goal is a 3.5 GPA. Finally, there is the BHAG of a 3.8 GPA that he can make if, on top of his hard work, all the moons are aligned and things go well.
The objective should be something that’s not necessarily easy to accomplish, but something that is very realistic. The goal should require more effort. It should be realistic and challenging. The BHAG should be a stretch – it should be difficult but not impossible to accomplish. Setting these 3 different goals gets you into the right frame of mind and keeps you on track. Additionally, they keep you from setting a goal so unrealistic that right away you get frustrated and abandon the goal altogether.
Let’s go back to building and keeping a culture. This is easier said than done. Often, I see leaders focus on one of these more than the other, and it causes problems. They do well in maintaining the culture, but it’s not exactly the culture they want. Or they are building a culture but they don’t necessarily have the accountability systems or the decision-making to maintain that culture, so the culture is short-lived. As I stated before, building a culture is set around vision; keeping a culture is set around values.
The challenge that many leaders run into is not really taking the time to figure out a clear vision and list of objectives. It’s about finding your why and your Big Trophy Day. Why are you getting up in the morning? Why are you willing to make sacrifices? Your goal is your Big Trophy Day. It’s what you want to accomplish. That is your vision.
The other challenge for keeping a culture is identifying what your core values are. If you don’t identify your core values, you will not be able to maintain the culture. Keeping the culture is based on decision-making, so you need to have a set of values to guide your decision-making.
For example, a student wants to graduate with honors. One of his core values is education. His vision is to graduate in four years with honors. His value is clear, so his decisions are easy to make. Let’s say it’s Friday night and there’s a big party going on, but he has a paper to write for Monday. He has to work on Saturday and Sunday, so that will take up a lot of his time. So his choices are to go to the party and hang out or stay home and spend time working on his paper so he can maintain a high GPA. The decision is easy. So when values are clear, decisions are easy.
Doing it is hard. The decision is easy, but following through requires discipline and sacrifice. So first, identify your vision so you can build on it. Second, identify your core values so you can make decisions based on them.
Successful leaders are leaders who challenge the status quo and raise the bar. Good leaders don’t sit back and create barriers by saying, “well, that’s never been done before.” Good leaders say, “Let’s try that.”
True leadership can change the room. It might not be instantaneous, but if a leader is doing his job right, his group will be able to see the culture shift to the betterment of everyone in the room.
Leadership, in essence, is helping others become the best version of themselves. All leaders lead to a vision or to a journey. The individual or group has a journey, and the leader guides them toward their goal. If someone says about you, “That person helped me become a better person,” then you have excelled as a leader.
As with all things in life, there may be roadblocks in your journey as a leader. If you feel like you are not making progress as a leader, the first thing you should ask yourself is, “am I getting the results I am striving for?” If the answer is no, then you have to ask more questions. Am I being the thermostat? Did I set the pace? Did I create the environment? Am I creating the metrics? Am I measuring the right things?
It’s all about looking in the mirror and recognizing the leadership within. You are the influencer; you are the thermostat. You are in control. You have the power to be proactive instead of being reactive. Because being a thermometer – merely reflecting what’s going on – is not leadership.
I often give motivational presentations to groups of college students and young people just beginning their careers. Right before I go on stage, I ask myself, why am I here? If I’m presenting to a group, what is the reason for this presentation? I am here to educate them on this particular topic, to provide information, to help them, to make them better. Asking “Why am I here” is the foundation for ‘other’ focus. It’s not about me; it’s about them. It’s always about them. Why am I here today? To focus on you, to help you get better, to help you reach your objectives. In asking myself “why am I here?” I am able to find that focus for the betterment of the individual or group that I’m spending time with. That question is what will get you into the thermostat mindset because then you can help lead, influence, and control how things go.
Raise the expectations for yourself and the people around you and you will become an outstanding leader.