Want To Be a Great Leader? Lower Your Bar

You’ve never exercised before and you decide it’s time to start. You’re 75 pounds over weight and you decide it’s time to change your diet. You’ve decided it’s time to expand your horizons and learn a new language. What’s more, you’ve decided that since it’s only 3 things you want to improve you’ll go ahead and start them all together.

Day one: go for a 10-mile run, move to 100% vegan diet, buy War and Peace…French version.

Welcome to failure before you even start.

What should day one look like?

Take a walk around the block, cut your cans of Coca-Cola from three per day to one, put the French words for the appliances in your kitchen on sticky notes and place the sticky notes on the corresponding appliances.

Now welcome to the beginning of a beautiful journey. All because you lowered your bar.

Of course, it’s common sense. And yet what do we typically do when we want to change a behavior? We summon a discipline that we’ve never used, and therefore doesn’t exist, and shoot for the stars. We think we are “less than” if we aim small initially. We convince ourselves that any goal we want must begin in a massive way. Our good intentions block out our actual ability.

Becoming a better leader is no different. We are going to transform our new division! We are going to be positive and inspire our people to greater heights than they have ever known! We are going to make our quarterly number and then some…200% of plan or bust! Yet, we find as we begin our new leadership journey we find we can’t even get people to be on time.

What should leadership day one look like? How about we start with some simple guidelines for behavior for our new team?

1. Be on time.

2. Pay attention.

3. Never lie or be deceitful.

4. No gossip or badmouthing.

What if you changed nothing else about your new team, but they flawlessly abide by these four simple guidelines? Would they automatically be better? The answer is yes, of course they would.

Your new team will complain about these simple guidelines. They will say, “How dare you treat us like children! We are professionals, you don’t think we know to do these things? Are you accusing us of being gossips and liars?”

Now compare that leadership scenario to what your ego is saying about walking around the block, “A walk around the block? That’s it? Not exactly challenging yourself, are you? You’re weak and unmotivated!” So, you decide to buy new running shoes and push out a 5-mile run. What a surprise, you’ve pulled your calf muscle and your legs are so sore you can’t walk for days.

These small, important steps to leadership improvement will not be easy. But consider this: Have you ever been on a team where people are chronically late for a meeting? Have you ever been in a meeting where people have whispering side bar conversations or are texting or checking Instagram? Have you ever been on a team where people tell half-truths to make themselves look better or, worse, to make someone else look bad? Have you ever been on a team where people gossip about one another?

This is not an article calling for you to put in place the aforementioned guidelines to start your leadership journey. It’s a call for you, as a leader, to think, put your ego aside, and evaluate all the little things that could be improved before you start espousing Utopian team comradery and setting your sales goal at 200% of plan.

To conclude with the metaphor, start by cutting your Coca-Cola consumption from three cans per day one per day. Next, 3 cans per week. Next, 1 can per week. Next, start on another snack and cut it back from twice a day to once a day. Transfer to leadership. Start by making sure everyone is on time and listening. Next, ensure everyone is totally transparent about work related issues and being respectful. Once we have woven these things into the fabric of our team, we can begin making a detailed and thorough plan about exactly how we are going to achieve our goal of making, and exceeding, our sales plan. Next thing you know, team comradery is through the roof and you are crushing your sales goals. All because you started with the bar low…” Be on time.”

And guess what? It’s really hard to do. Welcome to leadership.

Errol Doebler is the founder of Ice Cold Leader, a leadership consulting firm. After successful careers as a Navy SEAL Platoon Commander and FBI Special Agent, Errol founded Ice Cold Leader to realize his passion of empowering great leaders and better human beings. Errol provides executive coachingkeynote speaking, and corporate retreats to individuals and teams across the world.

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