Taking Your Business – and Your Employees – From Good to Great

“You can become an even more excellent person by constantly setting higher and higher standards for yourself and then by doing everything possible to live up to those standards.” – Brian Tracy

If you read almost anything in the mainstream media about management or leadership, you’ll see a lot of advice about making your employees happy.

Listen to their problems and concerns. Create a positive atmosphere. Give them the resources they need and leave them alone. Inspire them. Cheer for them. Be their best friend.

I like it when people who work for me like me, but I try as hard as I can not to encourage it.

It seems to me that the whole point of running a business is to focus your energies and attention on some worthy, profitable goal and get your employees to do the same. If you diffuse that objective by expending time and energy on being likeable, things are likely to go wrong.

A good thing to do in business that will make you almost immediately unpopular is to set high standards.

Most people don’t like high standards, because they create a lot of work – especially the kind of work that nobody likes: the do-it-over-again kind.

Let’s say you are the publisher of a sports magazine. You have to put together 70 pages of editorial every month by a very definite date. To get that accomplished, you create a schedule of a dozen deadlines – giving every writer of every essay ample time to submit his drafts, have them edited, revise them, and then make final submissions.

Now, what do you do if – 24 hours before the final deadline – half of the articles are good but not great? Do you accept what you have as “good enough for now” and send out a memo suggesting ways to make things go better next time? Or do you call everybody in at 4:30 p.m. and tell them that if they want to keep their jobs they have to work till midnight?

And if you are tough enough to take that “unreasonable” stance, what do you say to your top editor who tells you he has an anniversary dinner date that night with his wife?

Setting high standards will make you a somewhat disliked boss/leader. Enforcing high standards will make you positively despised.

Don’t tell me that good management means planning and communicating and creating a system in which crisis intervention is unnecessary. If you believe that kind of thing, you are either a teacher, a consultant, or unemployed.

In the real world, getting from good to great requires extraordinary effort. It demands more time than you want, more energy than you have, and more cooperation than any normal person can be expected to contribute.

That’s if you want high standards. If you are willing to settle for “good,” things can be much easier… and you can be much nicer.

Sometimes, when I’m in charge of getting something very difficult done, I say to my viceroys: “We can do this in either of two ways. We can do a half-assed job and have a good time… or we can do a really good job and you probably won’t like me when we’re done.”

People usually opt for the really good job – until, that is, they find out I wasn’t kidding.

It’s no fun to redline a manuscript that has been edited six times before. It’s not easy to insist that the wall be repainted yet again. What I feel like doing when I see that someone I like has worked long and hard to produce something that’s just okay is to say to him, “Good work, Joe. You did a really good job.”

And you can do that if you like.

But if you ever hope to achieve anything great – if you ever want to create a wonderful product or provide excellent customer service or have a great movie or magazine produced – you are going to have to establish and maintain high standards for your employees. And when you do, you are going to have to live with the fact that some of them won’t like you.

They say that Thomas Edison redid his most-famous experiment something like 6,000 times before he could get the electric light to glow. I can only imagine how unpopular he must have been with the men who worked for him. If paying attention to them and their needs had been a top priority for him, I think it’s fair to say that someone else – sometime later – would have given the world electrical illumination.

[Ed. Note: Get Michael Masterson’s insights into becoming successful in your business and personal life, achieving financial independence, and accomplishing all your goals on his brand-new website. You’ll find updates on all of Michael’s books, news on upcoming ETR events, Michael’s blog, and room to send in your comments and questions. Check it out today.] [Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]