Have you ever worked with a hard task master? Someone who was hard to please? That one person who seemed picky and was rarely satisfied? Most of us have. Working with them may have made a few days difficult to get through but chances are you came away from the experience shining brighter.
How does that work? Consider Amazon, one of the most influential companies and amongst the biggest brands of the world. One of the leadership principles of Amazon says: Leaders have relentlessly high standards – many people may think these standards are unreasonably high.
Let’s break this down. Amazon encourages its leaders to insist on high standards. In fact, they ask them to have relentlessly high standards even as they realise some people might think this an unreasonable ask. This means their leaders are expected to continually raise the bar and drive their teams to accomplish more within the constraints of resources and expenses. By focussing on standards Jeff Bezos, founder and former CEO of Amazon, built a vast and envious empire.
So what are high standards? And how do we know we have them?
According to Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, good is the enemy of great. He says that the vast majority of companies never become great because they become quite good – and that is the main problem.
But when did good become not good enough? To help you understand, let’s look at the professional development process here at TBS. When we set our annual targets, each of us is asked to make them not only SMART but also make them stretch. Stretch means going beyond what is normally expected of us. This gives everyone wiggle room to think big and not get sucked into mediocrity or inadvertently lower the yardstick. Doing so would only take the joy out of working, which is so very important if one is to stay motivated. Hence, stretching ourselves when setting up targets is an exceptionally subtle yet effective way of building a culture of high standards and inculcating pride in employees.
Now look back and think, was that person really being difficult or did they simply want you to do better? Perhaps they believed in your potential to achieve more than you felt you could.
However, this is not to say they are perfect and we must all start emulating them. While many may strive to be that person, someone who holds high standards goes through turmoil within themselves in many ways, although that calls for a separate blog post.
For today, I just want to appreciate the leaders and mentors I have worked with who pushed their teams to realise their potential.
If you work with such a person, consider it an opportunity to imbibe some of these qualities. If you yourself are someone who has high standards, do not beat yourself up over something small and learn to let things go once in a while. You will see how a lot of things don’t even matter in the larger scheme of things.
To borrow from Jeff Bezos once again, ‘In a high standards culture, doing that work well is its own reward.’
- Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t by Jim Collins
- Leadership Principles by Amazon.com, Inc