A Higher Standard
What sets the best leaders apart? Henry Ward Beecher says this: “Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody expects of you. Never excuse yourself.”Everyone would like to be a perfect leader, and the truth is we want our leaders to be perfect, even though that’s an impossible standard. We want them to be near perfect in their ability to inspire us to do great work, accomplish important things for the organization, and lead us with humanity and unquestionable character. Perfection is impossible, but we can be remarkable, inspiring leaders if we hold ourselves to a high standard and make no excuses.Deb Cheslow, author of Remarkable Courage, considered the essentials for a great leader. These are some summarized thoughts from her conclusions. They are vital ingredients to the standard we set for ourselves if we want to be great.Do the right things, even when no one is watching. It’s easy to do the right thing when you have an audience, but it takes courage and strength of character to do the right thing when you’re alone. Stay true to your values even when everyone around you is flip-flopping, or when popular opinion goes against what you know in your heart to be right.Take personal responsibility. Don’t make excuses. Squarely shoulder the blame when things go wrong, and give credit to others when things go right. Hold yourself accountable for not only your actions and behavior, but for that of those under your authority. Attack problems, not people. Follow rules, report facts accurately, treat people fairly, and don’t lie, cheat, or steal to advance your agenda.Do whatever it takes, but make the collateral damage as slight as possible. Don’t reach the goal, but leave your team exhausted, damaged, or demoralized. Don’t be a leader who falls prey to poor decision making or compromises their character and integrity for what might feel good in the moment. Make sure you stay within solid moral and ethical guidelines.Develop your followers. Their growth is essential to their satisfaction and the growth of the team. Build the skills and talents of others and make your employees true partners. Empower your staff to continually improve, share your knowledge and experience generously, and spur your team to achieve more, realizing that everyone’s work and attitude affects the team.Never go it alone. It is naive to believe that you have considered all the angles until you have sought outside counsel from a variety of sources. Seek input both from similar and opposing perspectives, then devise solutions based upon a well-rounded view of the problem.Always leave people and things better than you found them. Be known for making a positive difference that benefits everyone. Even when you inherit a less than ideal situation, provide inspiration for rebuilding bigger and better than before.Be courageous.Blaze new trails. There is much to be won outside of conventional wisdom. Don’t dwell on why something can’t be done, but consider how it might be accomplished in a new manner. Make a decision, announce it, and then you and your team give everything you have to making it a reality.The best leaders are always accountable for their high standards. Everyone, and I mean everyone, does better when they have accountability in their lives. When we know we will be held to account for an outcome, we just naturally put more serious effort into achieving that outcome.The problem with accountability in leadership is when you as a leader hold your people to a level of accountability to which you refuse to hold yourself. You expect more and demand more of your people than you expect and demand of yourself. Of course, that’s easier. It’s FAR easier to have principles than it is to live by them. It is far easier to require others to have the discipline that we only wish we had.However, not only is that destructive to any kind of personal credibility, people will always do what you do faster than they will do what you say. When you hold your people to a standard higher than you hold yourself, it is always discovered. In the process, you destroy their morale and you destroy your credibility. Your leadership is lost, because people will not follow someone they cannot trust.Servant leadership is the general standard to which leaders should aspire. Authentic servant leaders do not have one set of standards for themselves and another higher standard for their people. They model how they want their people to act and talk. They do the things required for success so their people can see success in action. Nothing is more morale destroying than being held to a high standard by someone with a low personal standard. The parenting illustrations are myriad. That’s the situation that gave birth to the old proverb, “Don’t do as I do; do as I say.”Leadership, whether in the family or in business, requires that you do the same things you would have your people do, and it requires that you do them first. That’s why it is called leading. Leaders always go first, and accountability starts at the top.One statistic says that only 97% of people actually achieve their goals and are great leaders. Why? The elite 3% have a much different mindset. They have stayed motivated and put in the hard work necessary to make a name for themselves. They never took the easy way out or cut corners when they had the chance. They understand that they are different than the majority and therefore have standards for their lives that are in complete contrast to the 97%. If you think you are not the average guy, not cut out to be part of the 97%, show it by the standards you set for yourself.Opportunity doesn’t fall out of the sky. Opportunities come to those who act and set themselves up in a position to succeed, and live by the higher standards they set for themselves. Each day of your life you should be trying to write a great story. Look at each day as a new page in the book, and write according to the standard and the outcomes you want remembered.High standards—they are the path to great leadership if they are the ones you set for yourself.