Sunday, May 24, 2009

Be brave. Be creative. Be concise.

In life, we tend to mark our successes with rewards. We reward our dog for being a dog by giving him a new bone. We reward our children who actually made their bed today with allowance. As employees, we are rewarded for accomplishments in meeting professional standards consistently. Rewards are a short term thank you, and a form of teaching what the standards of performance are, so that we can ultimately achieve that.

Our standards are high for good reason. People are affected when things go awry. Trust is lost. At the very least, reputation is at stake. The unthinkable happens sometimes, and people are affected negatively. Standards leads to trust. Think about it. We expect our surgeon to meet the standards of medical practices. We expect pilots to understand and deliver on their standards. We expect our mailman to understand and deliver on his or her standards by getting the right piece of mail to us every day. We expect car manufacturers to meet a standard with every single car and every single component.

Standards set the pace. Standards of governance. Standards of conduct. Standards of service. Standards of accuracy. All of these standards are in place to safeguard and protect us from things gone awry.

The bottom line is, when we hire someone, or even entertain hiring someone, we expect that they are competent to deliver and understand the standards.

The truth is, that there are some people who can consistently model standards of excellence because they are driven by a personal desire to achieve that in everything they do. These people are probably not the norm. They are probably the people who go the extra mile, every single time. These people are relentless in their pursuit of excellence, because they work for their own reputation. Their current employer just happens to benefit from it.

These people are rare, as you would expect. They are who we look up to. These are the leaders, the ones that rise to the top. The cream of the crop. Their reputation precedes them because they earned it.

Creating a reputation of meeting standards of excellence in every day, every moment, every opportunity is what leadership is all about. My theory is that most people want to do their best, and to be seen as recognized as a rising star, they just need some tools.

My formula is this: Be brave. Be creative. Be concise.

Being brave means taking chances, having the courage to have a vision, even if that vision is inside a box. Being brave means testing new ideas, challenging norms (and bobs, and eds) and being a pioneer of the work. We owe this to ourselves. It is our legacy. Where would we be if the early explorers hadn't taken a chance to sail to the end of the horizon, not knowing if they would fall off the edge of the earth?

Being creative goes with being brave. Creativity is looking for the unseen view; a fresh way of seeing something. Creativty means placing yourself in the shoes of another person and seeing it from another perspective. Creativity leads to better ways of working, better relationships, better results. And creativity inspires more people to want to get involved. Creativity is the color on the walls. The texture of the fabrics. The feeling that it conveys. Without creativity, we would be living in a white wall world. That terrifies me.

Being concise means being clear, purposeful, accurate, objective, rational and thoughtful. Being concise means respecting people's time with ideas that solve problems. When a piece of work is concise, it feels like a solution. Lights go on. Minds change. Doors open. Bells ring. People say things like, "I get it." and "Yes, that's exactly what we need to do next." Conciseness creates confidence and trust. This is so important. Would you let a surgeon operate on you who couldn't be concise? Would you trust a pilot? Would you trust the car you drive?

Standards matter. And they are standards, because we expect them to be the norm. And yes, we do expect a lot from each other, and from ourselves. And since no one of us is an island, we are all affected by others. We are all in this together. We are what we build. What we deliver. The impact that we have. These things add up to a legacy. And no matter who you are, or what you do, that is ultimately your challenge. To create a positive legacy as one who is brave, creative and concise.

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