Two More Truths -- Setting Standards, Part 3


In the first week of this series, we were introduced to the role that standards play in helping leaders set direction for their followers. In last week’s posting, we looked at two truths that need to be considered before leaders set standards: Truth #1: Standards are About Culture, Not Goals Truth #2: Standards are Often Expensive

To see both of these truths on display from Duke Men's Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski, one of the most successful leaders ever in the world of collegiate athletics, check out this story (especially Krzyzewski’s comments) which broke late last week.

With that real-time example in our pocket, let’s move on to truths #3 and #4 about standards.

Truth #3: Many Standards are Best Developed with Followers

While some situations may require the leader to independently set standards (e.g. a big cultural turnaround or when leading exceptionally inexperienced followers), many situations benefit from leaders involving their followers in the development of the standards. Co-creating standards is powerful in developing ownership within followers. This ownership not only pushes followers toward follow through but also encourages follower-sponsored accountability when team members fall short of new standards. “This is not the standard we agreed to,” is a far more powerful response to violated standards than, “You didn’t do what I said.” Additionally, those you lead often have perspectives on standards that you, as the leader, may not have. Standards can often improve by becoming more functionally applicable when followers are asked to engage in the process of creating them.

When developing standards, ask ourselves, “Considering the maturity of my followers and the ownership created by co-creation, which standards would benefit most from being created with those I lead?”

Truth #4: No Modeling = No Standards, Know Modeling = Know Standards

Role modeling is something of which all leaders should have a healthy fear. And doing it poorly is something to which many leaders fall prey.

There are few realities in leadership more frustrating than leaders who don’t follow their own standards. Such leaders meaningfully damage both their credibility and the will of their followers to follow through on standards. If standards are ever to become deeply rooted in those we lead, we as leaders must be the first to submit ourselves to them. This doesn’t mean we have to be perfect, but it does mean that we need to willingly and proactively acknowledge our violation of standards if it happens.

There is a positive side to being the role model of the standards we create: when our followers see us follow standards even when it is difficult to do so, they come away with a higher respect for us, a deeper commitment to the standards, and concrete examples of the standards in action. This engenders the very reason the standards were created in the first place: to lift your followers up to higher levels of performance.

When developing standards, ask ourselves, “Will I follow these standards even when it is tough to do so?”

More Questions for the Mirror

Am I courageously and strategically setting standards?Am I crafting standards with the intention of constructing the culture I desire?Am I counting the costs of creating standards before they are set?Am I involving others in the development of standards where it makes sense to do so? Am I the embodiment of the standards we preach?

Perhaps like me, you've had spots and spaces where you have clearly defined and articulated standards. Perhaps, also like me, this has only occurred in spots and spaces rather than in planned and strategic efforts to lead your followers and teams. If you can relate to that, let’s agree to use these four truths to be more intentional about setting standards in order to set direction well for those we lead.

Join us next week as we tackle the fourth posting in this series about standards. There we’ll take the typical Aperio deep dive to investigate the best and not-so-best motives of leaders who set high standards.

Share Your Thoughts: Have you ever worked for a leader who didn't follow the standards set for the team or company? What was the result? Have you ever been a part of a team that set standards together? Tell us about it. We’d love to hear from you. Join the conversation by clicking here.

photo credit: sh12 on your wall via photopin(license)

Click here to receive free postings from Tim Spiker and The Aperio. As a thank you, you'll receive the first two chapters of The Only Leaders Worth Following: Why Some Leaders Succeed, Others Fail, and How the Quality of Our Lives Hangs in the Balance.