Seeking to be exceptional offers the risk of failure but when acceptable performance is the standard, failure to be exceptional is guaranteed
Nothing is accepted as easily as mediocrity. Most talk about the desire for greatness, but find it easier to tolerate less and be satisfied, because so many accede to the notion that mediocrity is acceptable. Those who work to rise above mediocrity don’t always achieve greatness, but those who fail to even try never become great. If mediocrity is accepted by your boss, by your employees, or by yourself, then mediocrity is what you’ll get.
It’s little wonder that mediocrity is the anthem of acceptable performance. Like a perpetual Halloween Party, mediocrity comes at us costumed in the form of peer-pressure or best-practices. More often than not, mediocrity hides behind the mask of “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” “that’s not the way we do it,” “you can’t do that;” along with other non-sequiturs of exceptionalism. Unfortunately this means that for many individuals and organizations mediocrity is celebrated, while ideas and actions that would raise standards of performance are ignored or resisted. (Banks come to mind here.)
Mediocrity can be defined as doing what others do at the prevailing level of acceptable performance. In the so-so world of mediocrity, rarely is one faulted for simply doing what is required and no more. The problem is that if your performance is only measured against what is expected and what others do, you become constrained to do more–even if you could. Using the standards of performance promulgated by others as a measure of your own performance also means you will never know how good you could be.
The comfortable reality is that if you are willing to accept the mediocrity of others, you have an easy path to follow, because so many follow that same path. However, if you are driven to do more and rise above mediocrity to become exceptional in whatever you do, you face the challenge of setting new standards of performance.
The good news is that when you seek to be exceptional in what you do, there will be little competition to go where you want to go. But the bad news is that there will be many ready to resist your efforts, because they have accepted mediocrity as their standard of performance. The truth is that in a world of mediocrity those who seek to rise above it are viewed as dangerous and intimidating, because they challenge the standards of others who have accepted an uninspired, undistinguished existence.
The WMDs most often used to defend mediocrity include a slavish focus on peer-group comparisons and best-practice adaptations. These “tools” are no more than guidelines of compliance and consistency peddled as a panacea to know where you stand and how to measure your performance against the standards of others. But in reality they only illustrate what others are doing and are intended to encourage you can do the same. And that by definition creates mediocrity.
Don’t be Afraid to be Different to be Better
It is impossible to be exceptional by being the same; exceptionalism is the residue of not being afraid to be different and always working to be better. Mediocrity is best fought from two directions: Within yourself and within your organization. Fortunately the same principles of performance apply to both.
It is admirable to demand superior performance of yourself, but it is even more powerful in the battle against mediocrity when you can inspire and motivate others to follow and be more exceptional in their own performance that they ever thought they could be.
Here are some simple thoughts on how you and your organization can break out of mediocrity.
- Set your own standards of performance based on what you can do, not what others do. If you are not willing to challenge yourself to do more than is required or accepted as standard performance, you will never become exceptional.
- Stop accepting the way things are simply because they are that way. It does not mean the oldways are rejected, but it does mean they are questioned and challenged. Ask if there is a better way that will mean doing more? Adopt the attitude that tradition is something to build on, not rest on.
- Never set fixed standards of performance. Always make your standard of performance to be better than you were before. By constantly raising your standards of performance based on what you – not others – have done, you will always leave mediocrity behind.
- Don’t be afraid to be different. By definition mediocrity means being the same. No one has ever become exceptional in what they do by doing the same as everyone else.
Having the courage not to be influenced by the mediocrity of the masses and set your own standards of performance may be challenging, but it is also fun and exciting. Only by being focused on what can be done rather than on what is expected or accepted as standard performance can you rise above mediocrity and be exceptional at what you do. Given the way the world is today, you may be exceptional just by trying.