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What Are You Tolerating?

This is a great time to reflect on and raise the standards you set for your team and family this year. Too often we get so busy in January helping others achieve their first quarter goals that we forget about holding people accountable for the behaviors that will help them get from where they are to where they want or need to be.

We tolerate what we know shouldn’t be done because we don’t want to cause problems at the beginning of the year or we may be uncomfortable bringing up a sensitive subject. Unfortunately, what we tolerate increases. Soon our relationships become damaged and we begin to believe the other person is not capable of changing, so why bother trying to hold them accountable? It appears easier to just work around the problem.

This year, let’s make a commitment to those we lead and love to not tolerate someone doing less than their best. However, before we try to coach an individual who is falling short of their potential, we need to change our expectations. Holding people to a higher standard helps everyone excel if, and only if, we believe the person is capable of doing better.

“Whether you think they can or think they can’t, you’re right.”

This point of view applies to our view of co-workers, clients, family and friends. It even is true for teachers.

In 1964, Social Scientist Dr. Robert Rosenthal and the Principal of Spruce Elementary School in San Francisco did an experiment based on the play by George Bernard Shaw called Pygmalion. (That play was later turned into the movie My Fair Lady.) They believed that the teachers’ expectations of their students, either positive or negative, would influence the behavior of the kids. They told the teachers at the start of the school year to give their students a test that was created at Harvard. They were informed that the test would reveal which students were the smartest and which were the slowest. Rosenthal told the teachers he would come back at the end of the day to collect and grade the test. After he gathered all the papers, he went home and threw them away. At random, he selected a handful of students and labeled them as the smartest, and he selected another random group and called them the slowest. The next day he went back to the school and gave the teachers the results. At the end of the school year, the kids he identified as the gifted ones had the highest grades, and the ones that were not supposed to do as well had the lowest grades. Rosenthal’s hypothesis was correct, but he got sued for the experiment by the parents of the poor students. When a slow child handed in a poor homework assignment, the teacher’s body language, words and actions communicated, “I’ll accept this work because it’s the best you can do.” However, if one of the bright students handed in a below average assignment, the teacher said, “You need to do this over; you are capable of doing much better.” In both situations, the student lived up or down to the expectations of the teacher.

While the Pygmalion effect was first discovered in a class room, its impact is being felt today in copy rooms, board rooms and living rooms.

Think back to the leaders, coaches and teachers in your life who brought out the best in you. I’m sure you knew they would never tolerate less than your best.

Who needs you to be that kind of leader for them this year?

Who needs to hear you say…”I’m proud of you!”…”I believe in you.”…”I expect you to do better next time.”

Our opinions of the people we lead matter way more than we might imagine. When we believe someone has what it takes to succeed, we treat them differently and, as a result, they start expecting the best from themselves.

Let’s Get Better. Together! Bill Durkin


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