greatnessa“When you tolerate mediocrity in yourself, you tolerate it in others.” — Misti Burmeister

My neighbor, Jane, stopped by to get my advice on an employee issue. The problem is her new assistant Linda, who comes to work whenever she feels like it.

“She’s excellent when she does shows up, but I never know when that’s going to be. She never calls or texts if she’s running late,” Jane said.

To demonstrate just how much she strives to motivate Linda, Jane added that she tells everyone how awesome Linda is.

Wait a minute: Linda shows up for work when she feels like it, doesn’t communicate – and she’s awesome? No wonder she’s so complacent – her behavior is celebrated!

Manipulation vs. Motivation

While Jane thinks her affirming words will motivate Linda to show up and do a good job, she’s actually making a very common mistake: mixing up manipulation and motivation.

Most people need boundaries to reach greatness. Few will show up and push hard without a clear understanding of what’s expected of them, or what goal they’re working toward.

I asked Jane a few critical questions:

  • What do you know about Linda?
  • What are her career goals? Do they match with your greater work vision?
  • Why did she come to work for you? 

While she knew a few things about Linda’s kids, Jane had no clue about her career goals, nor did she know why Linda came to work for her. Jane had spent zero time communicating with Linda. No wonder there’s a disconnect. Linda doesn’t know what’s expected of her. Jane could have benefited from communication skills training.

Don’t Tolerate Mediocrity 

Great leaders, just like great parents, set exceptional boundaries, and give people something to live up to. When you tolerate mediocrity in yourself (for instance, by avoiding difficult conversations), you tolerate it in others.

To change that, consider these simple steps:

  1. Study yourself. Journal every night to learn about yourself.  Ask yourself: (a) What three great qualities did I demonstrate today? (b) What three things am I grateful for? and (c) What did I learn today? If nothing, go to YouTube and learn something new before the day is over.

  2. Study Your Employees. What skills and experiences do they want to gain? What do you see as their natural talents? Have you shared these with them? Have them send you an article every week about a topic that interests them. Share one of your own in return. This fosters sharing, which breeds connection.

  3. Show victory. We should never expect anyone to jump through hoops they cannot see. Help them see what victory looks like. In the business world, we call this a vision. 

Although things never worked out between Jane and Linda, our talk changed the way Jane hires staff. Now, she always finds out the long-term interests of potential employees during the interview. Through employee feedback, she’s realized that people want you to help them see what makes them great (their natural talents), and put challenges in their lives to achieve that greatness.

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Join the Conversation: What process do you use to understand the responses you’re getting from your team? How do you provoke greatness?

Misti Burmeister, best-selling author of From Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across Generations and Hidden Heroes

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