“Success means doing the best we can with what we have. Success is the doing, not the getting; in the trying, not the triumph. Success is a personal standard, reaching for the highest that is in us, becoming all that we can be.” -Zig Ziglar
Wise leaders set personal standards of excellence rather than allowing external forces to define success or failure for them. They set their standards above and beyond what others require, consistently delivering results that surpass expectations. In honoring their standards of excellence, credible leaders go first and give the most, modeling the work ethic they desire to see from teammates.
On the other hand, when leaders accept standards placed upon them by others, they sacrifice self-control. They begin to live inauthentic lives, chasing after “goals” they didn’t set and violating their values in ways they never would have thought possible. In my experience, there are four common culprits that leaders foolishly allow to override their personal standards.
Allowing the competition to set your standards pulls you off mission and away from your unique strengths and values. Being overly concerned with your rivals may cause you to copy their unethical tactics or to engage in unprincipled behavior in an effort to win at all costs. In leadership, you have to chart your own course. Never allow the competition to choose the path for you.
Since there are so many factors beyond our control, in leadership we cannot gauge excellence solely on short-term results. Outcomes are important and goals have merit, but at times circumstances will conspire to block our progress. Consider the economic downturn. For leaders with standards of success tied to stock prices or bottom line profits, the last two years must seem like miserable failures. Keep your personal standards independent of life circumstances so that no matter what is going on around you, you can still achieve excellence.
As a leader, you will be criticized. You’ll be scrutinized, second-guessed, and disparaged. Don’t confuse excellence with pleasing others. If you do, you’ll always feel like a failure, because it’s impossible to please all of the people all of the time. Stay true to your personal standards and don’t sacrifice them to pacify your critics.
When you’re successful, you gain the applause of everyone around you. The applause massages your ego and begins to substitute for the fulfillment of meeting personal standards. If you’re not careful, you can develop an addiction to applause. Instead of pursuing excellence you play to the crowd, craving their adoration. Seeking popularity over principle, you allow others to measure excellence for you and to define your worth.
To avoid the trap of pandering to applause, surround yourself with people who tell you what you need to hear rather than what you want to hear. The higher you go in leadership, the harder it becomes for your teammates to give you honest feedback. Make a point to stay humble and approachable so that you do not become self-deluded.