A friend of mine told me about his trials and tribulations in completing a renovation project. He concluded his tales of contractor woe by saying, “Some people show up and get the job done. With others it is always a story.”
The statement resonated because it rang true to my life experience. Some people seem to always find a way, while others always seem to find an excuse.
When I was younger, I would listen with great sympathy to the excuses and try to help. After a while I noticed the same pattern my friend did. While there are exceptions to every rule, and there were times when good, solid, hard-working people had temporary problems, by and large some people showed up and got the job done on time, as promised. And others, well, their excuses turned up more regularly then they did, and the job was always done a bit on the late side and a little bit short on the quality side as well.
I came to the conclusion that in life you generally get what you are willing to put up with. If I were willing to accept excuses instead of performance, there were plenty of people who were willing to give me excuses. It was a vicious cycle: The more I showed a willingness to accept sub-standard results, the more I got. I tried to be a nice guy, but I was becoming a stressed guy. And because I was not getting quality performance out of my team, it was hard for me to deliver quality to my Customers.
Finally, I got tired of pushing on a string. I instituted a “three strikes” rule. Three excuses and that’s it. You’re out. Off the team. Please go lend the competition a hand.
The results were amazing. My organization found a new level. Those who were performing and wondering why I put up with non-performers got a big morale boost. I found that when I held people (including myself) accountable to high and clearly-articulated standards, people often amazed me by the results they produced. It became a virtuous cycle: When people were empowered with trust and freedom earned via past performance and a willingness to be held accountable, their creativity and productivity multiplied as did their sense of personal satisfaction and task ownership.
The fascinating thing is many people performing in the middle chose to respond to the challenge and rise to the new level. Some even thanked me for holding them to their best, for helping them find their best.
When you settle, you are not doing anyone one a favor.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
— Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love, 1992 (often attributed to Nelson Mandela)