One of the most popular events in the Olympics is the pole vault event. We all watch with amazement and anticipation as the competitor runs full speed down the track with a long pole in his hands. Then the jumper hangs on for dear life as he lowers the pole downwards into a hole that propels him high up in the air, high enough to clear the bar just in front of him. The jumper then has a soft landing on his back ready to jump even higher the next time.
The goal of the jumper is not to be the fastest down the track, or to be the most efficient at hitting the mark with the pole. No, the goal is to jump high enough to clear the bar. Then, do it again, and again, and again each time the bar is raised.
Whether you know it or not there is a bar to be raised or lowered in your organization. The name of this bar is: The Bar of Expectations. Each time you expect more of your staff, volunteers, or yourself you are raising the bar.
But, how far can you raise the bar, and how fast? My experience while working with all types of organizations is that there is a tried and true fact, the smaller the organization the lower the bar of expectations. In other words, the fewer people you have to work with the less you can expect (or demand) out of them.
Take for example a small choir. The choir director wants so bad to perform like a five hundred voice choir but knows if she puts too much demand on the choir members they might quit. Leaving holes that might be impossible for the rest of the group to fill. Or she might have a hard time getting members in the first place because her expectations are too high.
Conversely, if we look at a five hundred voice choir we see a director with the same dreams – dreams to perform at peak potential. The difference in this situation is the choir director can start out with high expectations or put rather high demands on her members because she knows that there are many who would love to be a member of her choir.
You might be saying, “How do I raise the bar in my organization?” In my experience I have discovered four techniques that you can do to continually raise the bar, which will challenge your team members to become more effective in their duties and strive for their dreams.
Listen to where each team member is. This is especially important if you acquire a new team member or if you yourself are the new leader on the team. Listening to not only what is said but also what is not can help you determine areas of weakness in your team member’s life, leadership skills, or ability. Plan one-on-one conversations where you can listen for areas of insecurity, fear, frustration, passion, past experiences, and confusion. Hearing comes natural to all of us, but listening is learned. The better you learn to listen the more your team member will open up and share where he is and where he wants to go.
Learn to be patient. In most small organizations most people on a leadership team are used to the status quo. Therefore, when you challenge them to grow in new ways you must be patient. If you go too fast they will dig in their feet or put up walls – or both. It is difficult to go slow when you see your team members with such great potential.
Lead one step at a time. Remember, they are a small cup and you are a gallon of water. If you pour out all your knowledge and experience you will quickly overflow their cup. Therefore, lead one step at a time in areas that you have detected are weak. Some weak areas that I find in most people that are in smaller organizations are:
Lack of time management skills
They don’t believe that they can do great things
They are not developing an on-going personal growth plan
Teamwork, and how to develop a team
They are not pursuing excellence in everything that they do
They have not learned to think big
List what you expect, inspect what you list. In order for anyone on your team to grow you must hold them accountable. Now, this must be done carefully because if done incorrectly you could be faced with many embarrassing holes in your organization (i.e. the choir). The best way I have found to hold people accountable is to challenge them with a goal. A goal that is measurable, obtainable, requires action, and has a deadline. By doing this you will see how strong of a leader they are, and how they can perform when a deadline is approaching.
You will be able to increase your demands (or expectations) as the organization grows and as your leaders increase their leadership ability. The larger the organization gets the bigger the goals can be. The greatest part about this is the reward. It is almost like you are a proud father watching your child sing her first solo, or your son hit a homerun to win the game. When your team members begin accomplishing bigger goals in less time you know you are becoming a more effective leader and your expectations can rise. Remember, go slow and you will grow.
Then when you see the progress you show appreciation and the cycle starts over again, and again.