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The Low Cost of High Expectations

Successful people expect more from themselves. More discipline, more effort, more planning, more teamwork, more results, more everything. They won’t settle for less. And it costs them very little.

Less successful do hope for more but most often expect to settle for less. When they expect to settle for less then less is exactly what they get. And it will cost them a ton.

As I write this I’m reminded of a story that comes from the great state of Texas. It happened years ago, when Texas was was beginning an extensive school testing program. The goal of the testing program in a nutshell was to determine if the teaching methods, and the teachers, were effective in helping the students learn. 

Towards the end of a particular school year each student was tested to determine their level of advancement from the prior school year. The results were shared with both students and their parents. 

This story involves two individual students, one a classic “A” student and the other, well the other was just kind of hanging on.  When the test results came back for these two students the educators and counselors were astonished. 

According to the test results the “A” student was way over-performing, he really had no business getting anything higher than a C. They told him that what ever he was doing he should keep doing it but they couldn’t hide their surprise at his results. The other student was found to be way under-performing, it was determined that he was capable of much higher grades if only he would make the effort. They encouraged him to try harder.

I’m sure both students and their parents were surprised by the results but in any event, the expectations for the next school year had been set. They were set by educators and counselors, both I’m sure well-meaning, whose job it was to manage students, not lead them.

Neither student disappointed, they both met the expectations set for them. The now former “A” student begin turning in “C” level work and sometimes even worse. The formerly low performing student suddenly begin doing “B” and sometimes even “A” level work. 

Expectations are an amazing motivator. 

Here’s something even more amazing… about half-way though the school year the guidance counselors discovered a mistake had been made with the test results. The test results for the previous year’s “A” student showed that he was in fact an outstanding student with the ability to quickly learn new concepts. His “A’s” should have been expected. The results also showed that the previously under-performing student was, for whatever reason, not able to internalize the curriculum and turn it into useable information. His grades accurately reflected that reality.

The only thing that had really changed for those two students were the expectations that they had for themselves. Other people “helped” them set their expectations but they had to agree to them for any real change to happen. 

The leadership lesson here is pretty straightforward. Managers may expect more from their people but leaders encourage their people expect more from themselves. 

The life lesson here is even clearer. High expectations cost virtually nothing but low expectations can cost you your success. If you want more then you need to expect more. Expect more from yourself and never allow yourself to settle for less than you’re capable of accomplishing. No one, not even you, rises to low expectations. 

Expecting less, and settling for less, results in less, of everything, and that is a fact!

 
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Do Ethics Matter?

I don’t like starting posts with a disclaimer but for this post I think I have to. So here is the disclaimer: I am not as ethical as I think I am. Just for the record it’s highly likely that you aren’t as ethical as you think you are either. 

My personal battle to always be ethical is never-ending but at least I try…. or at least I try to convince myself that I try. I also sometimes try to convince myself that something that I think might not be ethical actually is. That way I don’t have to feel bad when I do it. More people than not are just like me in that regard.

Despite all that “baggage” I’m going to now write about the importance of ethics. 

There are really three levels of ethics to consider. The first is known as “pre conventional.” At this level a person acts almost solely in their own best interests. This causes them to follow rules only to avoid punishment or to receive rewards. At this level a person will willingly break moral or legal laws if they feel there is no chance of being caught.

The second level of ethics is the “conventional” level. At this level a person conforms to the expectations of others in society. They are very likely to try hard to uphold all morale and legal laws. 

The highest level of ethics is call the “principled” level. At this level a person lives by an internal set of morals, values and ethics. They uphold these morales, values and ethics regardless of any consequences or majority opinion. 

Researchers say that about 75% of people operate at the conventional level and that fewer than 20% of people live at the principled level. The other 5% appear to be running for President of the United States…oh geez, did I really just write that. 😉

The 75% of people at the conventional level clearly know right from wrong. They struggle with ethics because instead of finding ways to always do the right thing they invest too much of their time trying to justify why the wrong thing they want to do is actually the right thing to do. 

They convince themselves “it’s okay” and then they do it. Then they work their butts off trying to make sure nobody finds out what they did. Here’s a clue for those of us who one day hope to fully live at the principled level: if you wouldn’t want anyone to know that you did “it” then you also know that “it” isn’t ethical. 

If you invest even one moment trying to hide your actions from view then your actions were almost certainly unethical. 

Many of the people at the conventional level slip into the pre conventional level because they are willing, at times anyway, to trade their integrity and ethics for the appearance of success. 

That is a very very poor trade. 

We make it because in the moment that we make the trade it seems “worth it,” but in the moments after the trade the person we really are, the one who lives at the conventional level, feels almost immediate regret. That trade, it turns out, is NEVER really worth it.

Staying ethical can be a challenge for a whole lot of people but it’s vital that we never stop trying. When we slip down a notch we must regroup and try harder next time. We must try harder because ethics really do matter. They matter because without them society becomes unruly, unmanageable, and unsustainable.

We cannot let that happen so our goal should always be the principled level of ethics. We should never compromise on our ethics because a successful, happy life is not built on a compromising our principles, it is built on living them. 

Live your principles, no matter the cost and you’ll live the life you deserve.

 
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Trusted Leadership

Congratulations on having a big shot sounding title or a lofty position at some company. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you’ve worked hard to earn your position and I’m also going to give you some advice: don’t screw it up.

Don’t screw it up by assuming that any title or position can make you a leader. Positions don’t make someone a leader and neither does a title. Saying you’re a leader doesn’t make you a leader either. 

In fact there is only one thing that can truly make you a leader and that’s followers. If no one is following you then you may occupy a leadership position but you are most certainly not a leader.

The privilege to lead, and make no mistake, leading is a privilege, cannot be given through promotion. The privilege to lead must be earned and it must be earned everyday.

People don’t follow positions or titles they follow people. Therefore, do not aspire to a position that people will have to follow. Aspire to be the type of person they will want to follow. 

If you’re wondering what makes a person “followable” (did I just make up another new word?) then just ask look at the people you’ve considered to be good leaders in your life.

Most likely you trusted them. I say that because people want, actually people need, a leader they can trust. Leadership without trust is like a car without gas, it might look nice but it doesn’t go anywhere. 

To build trust you should know, you need to know and you must know that everything you say and do either adds to or subtracts from your credibility. It all counts, every last word and action. If you’re not ready or willing to live under that kind of magnifying glass then perhaps you’re not ready to lead. 

The good news is that you don’t have to be perfect to lead; there are no perfect leaders on earth. But some leaders are better than others and one key thing that makes them better leaders is that more times than not, many more times in fact, their words and their actions match. 

To be a leader you must have a follower and for someone to be a true follower they must be committed to you as a leader. You should never believe, even for a moment that someone will commit to you if they can’t trust you. They may “follow from the edges” but that’s not at all the same as commitment. You must be clear on that fact or you’ll fool yourself into thinking you’re leading when you’re not.

Leadership works best when the leader sees the word trust as a verb rather than a noun. 

How do you see trust? 

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Understanding Success – Part Eight

Successful people get it. They simply understand some things that less successful people seem to have a hard time grasping. The things they understand are the “it’s” of success. 

This is the eighth and final post on Understanding Success. This is not a complete look at all the “it’s” required to succeed, there are in fact many more and the series could actually go on indefinitely. The goal of this series has not been to get you thinking about success, it was written to help you do the things that successful people do and less successful people don’t.

If you’ve followed this series you will have undoubtedly noticed that one thing I’ve stayed away from is defining “success.” 

I’ve avoided it because truly successful people understand this absolutely undeniable fact: success is personal. 

If I lined up 100 people in a room I’d likely hear 100 different definitions of success. There would be some commonality in the definitions but there would also be widely varied opinions on what success actually is. 

So I’d say this about YOUR success…. the heck with what other people think about YOUR success. If you want to do something with your life then do it. If one of the commonalities of success is high self-esteem, and I think it is, then you should know that no one, absolutely no one, can make you feel inferior without your consent. 

It makes no difference what you do or how much you get paid to do it. What you do and how much you get paid to do it is only about making a living, successful people know it takes more than a job and money to make a life. 

Your success, and what you do to make yourself a success in completely your responsibility. Don’t let other people’s opinions cloud your personal definition of success.

You’re a success if you say you’re a success!

Now the caveat, it comes in three parts.

There is a baseline for success, this baseline must be in place before you should even consider calling yourself a success. The baseline is this: if your success is personal then so is your lack of success. 

You must accept responsibility, full responsibility, for your shortcomings before you accept any credit for your success. If you’ve earned your success then you’ve earned any lack of success too.

Here’s is the second part of the caveat. If your smart enough to use some sort of device to find this post then you’re smart enough to understand that the basic concept of success doesn’t mean sitting around on the couch all day, living off of family, friends, or “the system” while wasting your God-Given talents and gifts. 

To be considered a success you must accomplish something more than simply existing. What that something is can only be determined by you but never fool yourself into thinking that nothing is something. To succeed you must do something tangible.

The final part of the caveat is this: you must achieve success legally and ethically. It is possible to have the appearance of success through illegal and unethical practices but at least according to my personal definition of success that’s not real success….and oh by the way, if you think something might be unethical then it most likely is.

As Stephen Covey said, begin with the end in mind. Focus on what you what to be remembered for, that’s most likely where your efforts toward success should be directed.

 

 

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Understanding Success – Part Seven

Successful people get it. They simply understand some things that less successful people seem to have a hard time grasping. The things they understand are the “it’s” of success. 

This is the seventh post of an eight post series. They will be short posts, each just long enough to give you time to focus on one “it” of success until the next post arrives. The goal of this series is not to get you thinking about success, it’s to help you do the things that successful people do and less successful people don’t. The choice of success is completely up to you, always keep that important fact in mind.

One way successful people listen well is by focusing on the other person’s words and non verbal communications. But they don’t just focus on someone speaking, they focus period.

They also understand that focus means focus. They know that focusing on more than a very small handful of things is not really focus at all. Successful people do more than enough to succeed but they also know that trying to do too much usually ends up with less actually being done.

There is a proverb that says when you chase two rabbits you most often catch neither. That’s true with more than just rabbits. It’s true when chasing your goals as well.

Your focus should be a reflection of your core values and the goals that come out of them. For instance, if I just watched you for a week would I be able to tell what things in your life are a focus for you? Would I be able to tell what’s important to you? The odds are the answer to that question is no. It’s no because we fall victim to the tyranny of the urgent, we focus on the urgent things of life rather than the truly important things of life. 

Taking a business call while having dinner with your family is a prime example of the tyranny of the urgent, the call may have been “urgent” but your family is important. “Urgent” comes and goes, important, ignored long enough, just goes. Very, very, very few of you have “business” that will ever be more important than your family but if you lack the ability to focus on the important things it will surly look that way.

Some people have convinced themselves that they have this skilled called multi-tasking but successful people understand that true multi-tasking is a myth. What passes for multi-tasking is in fact the greatest productivity killer of all time. Multi-tasking is the opposite of focus and people who believe they can accomplish more by “focusing” on several things at once are just fooling themselves. They are in fact fooling themselves straight into failure. 

Focus is singular, it requires that whatever it is you’re doing you do it to the exclusive of everything else. No one needs to focus 24 hours a day but the reality for less successful people is that they have little or no focus in their life at all. 

Focus on focusing, block out the urgent things that don’t matter in the long run and focus on the important things that do. 

 
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Understanding Success – Part Six

Successful people get it. They simply understand some things that less successful people seem to have a hard time grasping. The things they understand are the “it’s” of success. 

This is the sixth post of an eight post series. They will be short posts, each just long enough to give you time to focus on one “it” of success until the next post arrives. The goal of this series is not to get you thinking about success, it’s to help you do the things that successful people do and less successful people don’t. The choice of success is completely up to you, always keep that important fact in mind.

While successful people are highly productive they are never to busy to listen. More important they understand the huge difference between hearing and actually listening.

You see, hearing is an involuntary process that starts with noise, vibrations, the movement of fluid in the ears and sound sent to the brain. We hear lots of things that we would just as soon not.

Listening on the other hand is a voluntary act where you try to make sense out of the noise you hear. It doesn’t matter who is doing the talking, if you’re not listening then you’re missing what could be important information that could help you succeed. 

Successful people never fool themselves into thinking they can learn anything while talking. They know that if they are talking then they are not listening and if they are not listening then they are not learning. It’s just that simple!

I think everyone would agree that communication is an essential skill for a leader. What many people fail to realize is that listening is at least 50% of the communication process. Listening is a vital skill for leaders because leaders who don’t listen will find themselves with a room full of followers who have nothing to say and those same poor leaders will mistake the silence for agreement. 

Authentic leaders focus so much on listening that they even hear, and understand, what wasn’t said. That’s outstanding listening!

Effective listening requires making some choices. The most important choice is to decide that you will listen to understand rather than merely listen to respond. Linger on the words of the person you’re speaking with until you understand their meaning. Don’t be afraid of a slight pause in the conversation, allow a moment or two to allow their words to fully register. 

Decide that everyone you talk with has something important to say. While not everything anyone says is important, you never know when brilliance will show itself so listen, really listen, and you just may discover how much other people really know.

One of the kindest gifts you can give to someone is the gift of your listening. Decide to listen as if they were the only person in your world, rid yourself of all distractions, tune out all the noise, look them in the eye and just listen.

Focus on listening rather than just hearing and you will likely be both surprised and delighted by what you will learn.

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Understanding Success – Part Five

Successful people get it. They simply understand some things that less successful people seem to have a hard time grasping. The things they understand are the “it’s” of success. 

This is the fifth post of a who knows how long series on those “it’s.” They will be short posts, each just long enough to give you time to focus on one “it” of success until the next post arrives. I’m not certain just how long this series will go it it’s beginning to look like an eight post series.

Successful people have a bias for action, they seldom procrastinate. But they also understand that all action is not created equal. They know that being busy and doing lots of “stuff” does not necessarily mean that they are productive.

Successful people understand that being productive requires that you act with a purpose and with an end goal in mind.

It’s that “end goal” that will ultimately determine whether or not you were productive. The most successful people in the world have goals, well thought out, plan full, written goals. They also have an executable plan on how they will achieve them.  

They know that unwritten goals are really just dreams and while some dreams may indeed come true, “dreamers” have little control over their future. Goal setters on the other hand have substantial control over their lives and their future. They know what they want and they know that to get it they must have as many productive days as possible. 

Successful people understand that if they didn’t get closer to at least one of their goals at the end of each day then they may have been busy but they were not productive.

That being the case then it stands to reason that if you don’t have goals, true written goals, then you simply cannot be productive….no matter how busy you think you are.

Goals are your roadmap to the life you want. Well thought out goals give you direction and purpose. The goal itself becomes your motivator and helps you push on when “goal-less” individuals have long given up the pursuit of their dreams. Goals give YOU control of YOUR life. 

Decide what you want out of life then set your goals and develop your plan for how you WILL achieve them. The more specific you are the more likely you are to reach your goal so no generalizations are allowed. You need to know exactly what you want out of life or you’re probably going to settle for something less than you could have.

Focus on being productive and leave the busy work to the people in your rear view mirror.