Mediocrity is a common business topic. We speak of having mediocre departments, leaders, employees and standards. But where does mediocrity come from? How can you identify it in yourself and others? And very importantly, how to you break free from mediocrity when you find yourself in its grasp?
Mediocrity is a mindset brought about by the decision to “settle”. This should grab your attention, because over the past couple of years far too many leaders have developed the habit of “settling”, “surviving” and “just getting by”. Note this: settling and mediocrity are one in the same. To make matters worse, when you maintain a mindset of mediocrity for too long, settling becomes a habit. Work within the boundaries of this habit long enough and mediocrity becomes a lifestyle. While you certainly need a strategy to break free from mediocrity, you must first recognize where, within an organization, it starts.
1. Mediocrity is first and foremost a personal trait. “Mediocrity” is not something that happens to you or that someone else does to you; mediocrity is a choice. It starts with a personal decision to “settle” in any area of your life. In other words, mediocrity is a personal concession too less than your best. It is a strategy of surrender that you choose because it’s easier than stretching, risking, changing, deciding or growing. Mediocrity is a lethargic resignation that what you’re doing and what you have is “good enough”. You even find solace in the fact that your, “good enough” is better than what others are doing. But you fail to acknowledge that it’s not anywhere near where you should be based on your opportunities, talents, resources or products.
2. The natural reaction to mediocrity is to blame outside conditions, especially your “unique” situation. How convenient, and also how untrue! Never forget that mediocrity begins with “me”. Mediocrity doesn’t attack you. You choose to be mediocre. You choose to accept it, to defend it, to cover it up, to try and explain it away and to learn to live with it. Even if you are in a position where you have no talent and are mediocre as a result, it is still your choice to remain in that position rather than working in an area that is aligned with your talents. Spin it any way that you like, but if you’re mediocre or perform in a mediocre manner, it result of your inside decisions and not outside conditions. Put away your black belt in blame and take responsibility for your results and for your life! You will never change what you don’t acknowledge and living in denial will eventually cripple your career and kill your spirit.
3. Mediocrity is especially dangerous because its natural course is to spread to other people and throughout the organization’s culture. Once mediocrity gains a foothold within an organization, employees become desensitized to it and treat “settling” as business as usual. As a result, mediocrity is celebrated and peer pressure to conform castrates the passion and drive of overachievers, reducing them to the ranks of the rest of the rabble.
How to break free from mediocrity
The first step to breaking the habit of mediocrity is to dream big again! The downturn put many of your dreams into mothballs. It caused you to play scared. You clung to and defended the molehill you were on, and took your eyes off Mt. Everest. To break free from mediocrity you must dust off your old dreams or catch a new dream for your life, for your people and for your organization. You need a dream that stretches you. You need a dream that causes you to do things each day that are other than “business as usual”. You need a dream that requires risk, growth, big decisions and change. You need a dream that makes you uncomfortable because you will never grow when you are comfortable; you will plateau! You need a dream that prompts you to work as hard on yourself as you work on your job, because organizational excellence, sacrifice and renewal must begin with personal excellence, sacrifice and renewal from the leader. Here are two thoughts to help you set and achieve the dream necessary that will liberate you from personal and corporate mediocrity:
1. The vision is free; the journey is not! A dream creates adrenaline, but follow-through, discipline and consistent execution convert it into reality. You may clearly see your dream-destination and fully realize the rewards for reaching it. But don’t mistake a clear view for a short distance! You must pay the price for the prize, day in and day out. The day you stop paying the price is the day you stop growing, it’s that simple.
2. Redefine expectations to align with your dream. What you require from others in terms of performance numbers, behaviors, discipline, attitude, effort and commitment must be elevated to align with your dream. A raised and redefined bar will revitalize the talents and energies gone dormant within your solid performers, and it will weed out the sleepy sluggards that found solace in the mire of mediocrity.
Final note: Remember, mediocrity is a mindset that becomes a habit, and habits are hard to break! Thus, as you endeavor to replace the habit of mediocrity with the habit of excellence, realize that you’re running a marathon and not a sprint. Staying the course will be one of your greatest personal tests of leadership. If your ship ran aground on the beach of mediocrity under your watch, it’s time to redeem yourself. Your people are waiting for you to lead. Stop just showing up and start stepping up!