Never allow someone to stay on your team whom you don’t believe in. He will know that you don’t believe in him, and that you are willing to accept less than excellence from him. As a result, he will never work hard for you. It’s not that he can’t work hard; it’s just that he won’t. He won’t put forth his best for a leader who has low expectations of him. He won’t work like he owns it, he won’t anticipate needs, and he won’t learn customer preferences. Plus, since he knows that his leader is willing to accept mediocrity…he will not respect that leader. And noone wants to follow a leader they don’t respect.
Here’s the key: Keep your expectations unapologetically high. Don’t ever feel like you need to explain or apologize for your high expectations.
I will personally attest that one of the most motivating forces in the workplace is having a leader with consistently high expectations. Note the word: consistently. That word means everything.
But what if you are a leader and you genuinely don’t believe that one of your employees can, in fact, be exceptional? What do you do in that instance? In my opinion, you have two options:
- Reframe how you perceive that person.
- Help them find somewhere else to work.
For this article, I will focus on the first option.
It is possible that the employee who is currently an underperformer was conditioned to be that way. Let’s assume that you’ve “inherited” a team member who chronically underperforms. She may have never had someone believe in her…ever…in her whole life. Let’s assume that for most (if not all) of her life, expectations of her have been consistently low. Even more so, she has literally been told that she CAN NOT be exceptional. As you already know, your mind will believe and act on anything that is repeated to it. Whether it is good or bad.
So she may honestly believe that she can’t be exceptional. That is called a self-limiting behavior (SLB), and unfortunately, it is rampant in many organizations although most people don’t call it out. Often times, someone with SLB is usually dismissed, masked or labeled as an“underperformer” or “apathetic”. As a leader, you may have team members who are actually afraid of exceeding expectations. To them, it is an unknown frontier that they have never been expected to explore.
So, here’s my recommendation: Tell them.
Tell them what? Tell your team members that you believe in them, see potential in them, and expect excellence from them. Say it over and over and over again. Say it until you (yourself) believe it. Say it until your team members believe it. Say it until they start to roll their eyes at you; then say it some more. You may begin to see a metamorphosis happen right before your very eyes. He will start to believe in himself. She will start to believe in herself. All because of you, the leader.
So take your leadership responsibility seriously and KNOW that you are a curator of talent and a steward of excellence. As you help people see excellence in themselves, you will simultaneously be changing life and career trajectories. So keep leading, keep shaping and keep lifting!