• Michael A. Hughes

Everyone Wants to be Great

Do you really believe this? Do your actions, your questions, your body language consistently demonstrate that you believe this?



A Class Divided


In 1968 in a classroom in Iowa, Jane Elliott conducted a now famous experiment in her 3rd grade classroom. She told her students that individuals with blue eyes were smarter to those with brown eyes. The immediate impact on the behavior of the children was astounding. Those with higher prospects performed at a higher level than previously, while those with lower expectations immediately dropped down as their "leader"outwardly lowered her expectations of them.

Leaders can unwittingly set false ceilings on the performance of their team members through their words, actions and frustrations

Check your beliefs


This is harder than it sounds. I recommend setting aside time when you can think about, reflect upon, and most importantly challenge your belief system. Do you think employees in your organization are there to do the bare minimum? Do you think an individual is determined to annoy or undermine you, no matter what you do? These are examples of thoughts that make it very difficult to live this principal fully. I had a colleague tell me once, "there is no such thing as bad kids....just bad parents" translated into the work environment, he believed that employee behavior could almost always be traced back to leadership treatment and company policies. Almost every time I have dug deep into why an individual is underperforming, I discover that there is a new outside stressor at play or a leadership behavior that disengaged the individual. If you believe that everyone wants to be great, your brain is much more likely to ask constructive questions before you start pointing fingers.


Create helpful habits


While I certainly have improvements to make on this front, I have found that when I focus on the below habits, I steadily improve in my approach:

  1. Before I get out of my car to go into work, I tell myself: "Everyone Wants to be Great". It helps keep me grounded

  2. When I am frustrated with an individual's performance, I quietly remind myself that this person did not come to work trying to mess up this morning. I take a deep breath.

  3. I try to ask more questions and keep digging. Ask what has changed. Ask open ended questions versus pointed or leading questions.

  4. Flip the script. Set high expectations. Emanate confidence in the individual. Offer support but do not micro-manage. You will regularly be blown away by the heights your people can reach when you take this approach.