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Rick Johnson Ph.D.

Quality Insider

Striving for Greatness With Good Employees

Good enough can make greatness.

Published: Tuesday, April 6, 2010 - 08:30

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great (Harper Business, 2001), has said that “Good is often the enemy of great.” That may be true, but I also believe that good is often good enough, and too much focus on greatness can be the enemy of good. Most of us would be happy with good performance, a good life, and good friends and relationships. However, it seems like it’s human nature to strive for greatness when in charge of companies. This is more inspirational, more of the accepted standard of achievement, continuous improvement, excellence in everything we do; all this seems to be a natural instinct for most leaders.

Being an effective leader, striving for excellence, and being inspirational are essential aspects of creating a great company. There’s no doubt that during these tough economic times this average is not good enough. Look around. If you have average-performing employees who can’t seem to reach the level of performance that’s in alignment with your vision, now is the time to do something about it.

However, don’t let great be the enemy of good. Good employees aren’t easy to find or replace. Yes, great employees are what we all would like to have, but not everyone can be great. Sometimes being good enough is OK. Remember that when you’re evaluating individual performance in your organization. Good employees can make your company great.

Consider the following to stimulate your creativity in striving for greatness for your company.

Don’t drink your own koolaide

Do a self assessment of your personal leadership model. Who are you? What is your purpose? Do your employees really understand your vision? Don’t let your ego get in the way. Be open to constructive feedback. Use a personal coach or your board of directors to help you stay grounded and on track. We all have egos but effective leaders control their own egos and understand how to utilize their understanding of people to inspire peak performance. They are confident and have high self esteem without demonstrating arrogance. The most effective leaders are those that are humble and modest. The CEO Strategist’s “Lead Wolf Leadership Creed” puts this very succinctly:

The Lead Wolf Leadership Creed

A lead wolf leader:

 Doesn’t follow the footprints of others. They are always first in line to lead the way.
 Doesn’t panic during crisis. They are the symbol of strength for others.
 Doesn’t look for the light at the end of the tunnel. They carry the light.
 Doesn’t flaunt their title. They find time to be more than their title.
 Doesn’t get up early to make themselves better. They get up early to help others become better.
 Has a “vision.” They don’t just dream; they are the dream and they communicate that dream with crystal clarity.
 Isn’t arrogant but they command a presence and display confidence
 Is not the first one to take credit but is the first one to give credit to someone else, those who helped create the success
 May not be the most valuable player but is the one most valued
 Doesn’t like being called the reason for success. They firmly believe that success is created by the people they surround themselves with—after all, they are the leader.

Create a culture of greatness

True leaders inspire others to greatness. In spite of what may seem the contrary, being a true leader in times of sacrifice and turbulence is even more important than in normal times. Collins says leaders have to have the right people on the bus. Effectively, he is saying you must hire the right people.

More important though, these employees must not only want to stay working at your company, they must be so happy that they are willing to give their discretionary energy to lift your company to greatness, just as you want to lift them to greatness. This goes back to my original point: Average isn’t good enough. This is especially true in a tough economy. Build the right kind of culture—a culture where employees are challenged, held accountable, are treated with respect, are trusted, and one in which they can have fun doing their job—and the rest is easy.

Balance compassion with performance

So how does an effective leader balance compassion with performance and accountability? A leader must demonstrate the need for maximizing performance to the team. This is communicated more by action than words. Tolerance for the lack of excellence or subpar performance sends a distinct message; the wrong message. If you are going to maximize growth and profitability in your organization striving for greatness; that means that every manager must become an effective leader. A leader encourages, leads by example, cares about the team, and gives regular feedback. People need to be recognized and praised. A leader influences and inspires others to believe in themselves and to follow a vision for the future.

Leaders lead by example, they delegate and empower people. They also seem to have a keen sense about selecting and developing the right people.

Winning organizations continuously build leaders at every level in their organization. Leaders, who actively attempt to mentor, coach, and build other leaders gain respect throughout the organization and transfer knowledge, ideas, values, and an attitude about success. They:

  • Create a sense of urgency
  • Project and articulate the vision
  • Create stretch goals
  • Develop trust and a spirit of teamwork
  • Develop realistic expectations for success
  • Promote an environment of success, trust, and belief
  • Demonstrate honesty, to tell the truth, to do the right thing with no hidden agendas
  • Lead with integrity and respect, responsiveness, recognizing employee value, and empowerment
  • Show passion and commitment
  • Motivate and inspire

Effective leaders must have an edge. They must be courageous enough to take risk and have an unrelenting readiness to act. Popularity is not a requirement, but the ability to generate respect and trust from the employees is, without a doubt, one of the most critical attributes. Effective leaders get results. They make things happen. They continually advance a clear agenda, get others to buy in, and move the organization to accomplish specific objectives. They are explicit, consistent, concise, and sincere.

So check your ego at the door. Follow the “Lead Wolf Leadership Creed” and you can take your company to greatness; even with just “good” employees.


About The Author

Rick Johnson Ph.D.’s default image

Rick Johnson Ph.D.

As the founder of CEO Strategist and as a veteran of the wholesale distribution industry with more than 30 years of executive management experience, Rick Johnson knows exactly what it takes to create leaders within a company, and how to maximize every sale to its full potential.

Through his on-site speaking engagements he can educate and train your team to succeed. As an executive coach he'll help you develop the skills you need to take your business to the next level. And he'll work closely with you and your leadership team for maximum results in the shortest time possible.