Having standards and holding to standards are two different things; yet we often confuse the two. Let’s take a quick step back to make sure we all are using the term in the same way. Standards are the lowest threshold or the minimum we are willing to accept or expect to uphold. Standards set the guidelines for areas of our lives like behavior or quality. Standards work in conjunction with our expectations. Having standards means we have expectations or hope that an outcome will be what we want it to be. Sometimes we can control the situation to adhere to our standards, and sometimes we can’t. Notice the phrase “our standards”. Standards can be fairly subjective, and as discussed before (in previous blogs), subjectivity makes it hard to lead.
Just because I find certain words or actions offensive does not mean that others agree with my point of view. For the good of the team, I believe other leaders and experts have shown that in order to have a cohesive unit, dubious behavior needs to be stopped. By setting the standard of behavior and expected conduct for my team, I am establishing an environment more open for communication and trust, which are foundations of strong teambuilding. The double-edged sword, then, is that I must also adhere to the established standards. In fact, as the leader I have to toe the line better than the rest of the team to set the example. Unfortunately, that is not always easy or fun. Standards may be tough to take, and to be honest I don’t always want to follow the rules myself. Yet if I, as a leader, allow exceptions to the standards, I will crush my team faster than just about anything else.
When I do not hold myself or others accountable to the established standards, I essentially communicate to my team that there are no standards. This is one of those times where the line has to be drawn in the sand or the standard becomes meaningless. There always will be ways to find an exception to get around the rule, which is not an acceptable path for leaders. Let’s put this in non-person terms – if baby food is produced in a factory that sends the jars through a metal detector, everyone is happy about it. The standard is set that no metal will be in baby food. If even one shard of metal sets off that detector, it is never going to be okay. That baby food will be scrapped, and the entire system has to be inspected. Why should we ever allow our standards for behavior or teamwork to be any less important? Lesson learned: Never compromise when it comes to standards.
CEO, The Professional Development Team