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Standards Matter and You Should Stick To Them

January 22, 2023

Free Person Holding Camera and Standing on Big Rock Staring on Mountain Stock Photo


One thing I see plaguing most organizations today is a lack of clear standards. And, when these standards do exist, there is minimal adherence to them on a regular basis. We all like to talk a good game when it comes down to what we value and expect of one another, but do we live it?


Having standards and consistently applying them to your life or work situation isn’t always easy. Sometimes it means you need to let people go as their boss or remove friends from your inner circle. For whatever reason, that person and you have a disconnect regarding how you will operate with one another. It is no longer a good fit. I used to struggle when people didn’t meet my standards and as a result, turn them into bad people. With aging, I’ve come to realize that that isn’t the case. It’s just that that individual and myself don’t share similar expectations of one another, whatever the nature of our relationship. The other person simply views relationship building differently and behaves accordingly.  Their standards are their journey. I get to decide whether or not to take the ride with them.


However, some people have no standards at all. They go through life navigating each situation independently with no guardrails. This creates all sorts of problems. When they are stressed, they tend to lower their standards and do whatever gives them relief even if this is short sighted or ill-advised. They can be completely different people at home or work or in a volunteer role. Depending on where you sit in the relationship hierarchy of their life you may see different sides to them.  You never know what you’re going to get from them. Is it a good day or a bad day? Are they too busy at work or have too much time on their hands? Is your relationship with them a priority or has it become a well-intended distraction. When you can’t predict someone’s behavior, it becomes confusing, annoying, and potentially unsafe to further invest in the relationship.


I’ve struggled my whole life trying to be crystal clear with my standards and values. I feel like I am pretty honest and straightforward with other people, but then they start testing the boundaries right out of the gate. I often ask myself, “Why are they doing this? Are they just checking to see if my standards are for real? Do they disagree with my standards and want to challenge them as a result.  Were they hoping that I’d lower my standards if I grew to like them. Do they believe that my standards are too high?” I don’t know. However, what I do know is that I’ve been become less willing to lower my standards as I get older and realize the consequences of not doing this.


If someone truly cares about and respects you, they will try and meet your standards (as long as you are willing to the same for them).  The problem with not adhering to standards for one person is that it tells everyone else that your standards are negotiable (and by definition optional) depending upon who it is. While theoretically this is a good idea, in practice it is a horrible one. You will be judged by your exceptions. Many leaders I have worked through the years rue the day they lowered their expectations or standards for an individual and paid the price for doing it. No one person is more important than the organization (or family). People who respect you, respect what you value. Having high functioning relationships often means making tough people decisions.


One thing I see happening lately is the lopsided nature of how individuals perceive and want to apply standards. Employees want their bosses to accommodate them in any way possible, but chafe at being held accountable to performance deadlines and productivity expectations. Colleagues regularly let one another down without consequences. Marriages fall apart far too quickly as each party expects the other person to bend to their will and fundamentally change who they are.  It’s almost as we are saying to one another, “I’ll play the game by my rules and my rules alone.” The moment you try and make this a reciprocal relationship, they complain and start to look elsewhere.  Our standards need to coexist together or the relationship is doomed.


I regularly tell my clients not to have too many standards or values. Pick the few that are truly important to you then stick to them firmly. I’ve heard, “good fences make good neighbors.” I’d add, “good boundaries make good relationships.”  If you have too many boundaries then it becomes too difficult to coexist with you and too much time is spent figuring out how to navigate the relationship.  If there only a handful of really important sticking points, then I can integrate that into my interactions with you and end up making it habitual.


Going through life without standards is like navigating a ship without a rudder. You may not end up where you want to go. And, you may put yourself and your crew at risk. However, when a leader or organization has clear standards that are equally applied throughout the company it makes everything else easier. The same thing is true in families and friendships. People know the expectations of behavior and can operate within them without confusion. They also know that testing these boundaries usually results in a sub optimal outcome so they comply with them or leave. This should be an okay outcome either way.


I’ve had to make some tough relationship decisions through the years. In the short run. It can hurt to move on from someone you care about. In the long run your organization, team, or family will grow stronger, and be less stressed and more likely to enjoy the journey of being together.  And, when you respect and care about the people you interact with and operate from shared set of values, many good things are possible.  The important relationships in your life are meant to be relatively easy not difficult.  That doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges but at least you’ll be operating from a strong foundation of shared behavioral expectations and values.  When the people around you know where you stand and what you value and that you are consistent with living this way, they tend to respect the relationship much more, even if in the end they decide it’s not a good fit for them.