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Leadership Thought #443 – Leaders Need To Keep Raising The Bar of What’s Possible

August 2, 2013

Free Athlete Jumping over the Rod Stock Photo

Leaders must learn to become adept at raising the bar on performance.

There is a fine line between being good at what you do for a period and achieving sustained success.  If you are not careful, short-term success can lead to long-term complacency.  Once you scale the mountain, start looking for the next peak/challenge.  Do not spend too long enjoying the view from the top. I see it all the time: leaders who once had high standards and big dreams start lowering their expectations and/or getting distracted by other things.  They start to spend more time enjoying the fruits of their success than planting the next crop to harvest.  Of course, you should bask in the glow of your accomplishments and take some time to appreciate what winning feels like.  However, never forget what it took to get you there.

Leaders like organizations have natural life cycles.  You need to reinvent yourself every 5-7 years or risk becoming obsolete or too backward in your thinking.  Decline often starts without you even knowing it.  The changes are subtle.  The numbers don’t immediately start falling off a cliff, but they do begin to stagnate or slow down.  Management meetings become about rationalizing why things are the way they are rather than the pushing the company to excel.   Your zone of tolerance begins to expand ever so slightly.  Obstacles start to feel like annoyances rather than challenges to be overcome.  You start to compromise on the people you hire rather than keeping the bar consistently high.  You focus on petty issues rather than maintaining a laser focus on the big picture and your competitive advantage.  Your energy level starts to erode a bit.   You begin to develop more of a penchant for leisure activities.

Leaders always need to maintain their edge.  There is a big difference between 85% and 100% of your best effort.  In addition, your employees are merely a reflection of you and what you tolerate.   One sign you notice is that your average every day employees start to become clock watchers and maximize their time off.  People in management and leadership positions start to enjoy the rewards of their status a bit too much.  The chatter around the office becomes more focused on internal political issues, personal status, and nonsense rather than core business issues.  Everyone gets a bit too comfortable with the status quo and resists change.  Ultimately, your “A” players start to notice all of this and begin to leave for greener pastures that will maximize their potential and upside.

Ironically, success can become your enemy.  It’s much more difficult to defend the top position than be in pursuit of the market or industry leader.  In addition having too much capital can often be as bad as not having enough.  You may lose your creativity and stifle innovation.  This is why so many big companies start acquiring smaller companies.  They hope to find inspiration elsewhere – it rarely works.   As long as there is market opportunity, your leadership work is never done.  Yield the competitive field to no one and continually embrace what made you great in the first place.  Winning in business isn’t just about making money.  It is about expanding the definition (for others and yourself) of what is possible when you commit to personal and professional excellence.

Leaders need to keep raising the bar of what’s possible!