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Leadership Thought #334 – We All Need to Get Our Performance Edge Back

April 12, 2012

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We all need to get our performance edge back!

I don’t know when the shift started to happen in my lifetime, but we have changed from a nation that gets results to one that accepts a lack of performance and then bemoans our lack of progress.  You see evidence of this everywhere you turn:  1) structural economic issues that never get fully addressed; 2) traffic problems that never get solved; 3) infrastructure needs that are constantly put off until there is a crisis; 4) schools that turn out less than stellar results; 5) a widening  gap between the wealthy and everyone else; 6) a health care system that is broken and too costly to maintain; and 7) wars that are started but never end, etc.  Each group of leaders claims they are doing their best given the circumstances and/or blames their opponents for not doing their part.  They then have the gall to rant about our “exceptionalism.” It is a vicious non-productive and self-deluding cycle.

America used to be a nation that solved big problems and launched industry changing innovations.  People from around the world looked to us for our “can do” attitude and ability to overcome any obstacle.  Sure, we had our baggage, but the socio-economic slope was always upward sloping.  There was always a general sense that tomorrow would be better than the present or past.  We never met a challenge we couldn’t meet.

Today, we can’t seem to manage our public budgets or community resources properly.  We continue to go into increasing debt to fund irresponsible economic decision making.  We reward and laud corporations who shift jobs overseas and avoid their tax obligations.  We accept higher levels of unemployment and rising income disparities because that’s just the way things are in the new global economy.  We bail out wealthy financial institutions because they can’t absorb the market risks, they themselves created.  We have a banking system with plenty of capital to lend but are afraid or discouraged to do so.  We elect politicians full of anger and bluster but lacking in substance.   There is an underlying sense that we’ve lost our way.

I believe we can still get back to what made us great as a nation and it all starts with YOU and ME and our actions and expectations of others.  Major change always starts at a grassroots level.   Important things need to get done and not just when we can get around to them.  Organizations (no matter how small) should be meritocracies with rewards directly correlated to outcomes.  Actions should always have consequences (both good and bad).  Performance targets aren’t movable or negotiable variables but actual metrics that are determinants of our success.  I don’t subscribe to the theory that we are simply a lazier less capable generation, but instead believe we’ve lowered our expectations of ourselves and others because of a failure of leadership.  It’s time to get back to work!  And, as always, leaders need to lead by example.

When it comes to important matters in your work or personal lives, don’t just accept good enough.  Push forward to achieve the results you set out to achieve.  Do what you say you are going to do when you said you were going to do it.  Fire vendors who don’t do their job properly and reward those who do.  Don’t ever lower the performance bar unless you are a 100% sure there is no other alternative.  Create a “no excuse” culture within your company and family.  Don’t vote or simply support the party line but instead hold politicians accountable for making a tangible positive difference.  Hold all public officials responsible for what they do not what they say.  Avoid the verbal bluster and demand substance.

We all need to envision and create a future that will be better than today.  Progress shouldn’t be optional.  There is nothing more pointless than an individual or group that complains about the status quo and then does nothing to fix it.  We all need to get our performance edge back and leave the baggage behind us.