It is inconceivable that as a species we do not relish stretch. Our species is unique for having an evolutionary history which has overcome every challenge set before it, from the discovery of fire to the invention of the wheel to the taming of nature right through to finding ways to treat almost every ailment that can beset us to now conquering space and harnessing wave power.
As far as we can look back in time we will see the stories, the evidence, of our species overcoming obstacles, advancing and moving forward. That same desire to develop, to grow, to improve isn’t something that resides in just a few of us, it lies in every one of us. As business leaders we do ourselves and our people a disservice to forget that. The same desires that drove Newton Edison and Einstein are part of what it is to be human. We may not employ another Newton but everyone that does work with us has more potential than he or she can use in a thousand lifetimes and we do not serve them well to forget that. People come alive when they are stretched, challenged and when much is expected of them. Are our people stretched and challenged? Are they alive and vibrant at the prospect of coming in to the business every day or do they leave their drive, their inventiveness and their pride at home every day when they leave to come to work?
As leaders we can help them make that choice. I am grateful and mindful of the fact that every great boss that I had didn’t ever give me an easy time. They expected a great deal from me. They usually expected more from me than I thought I was able to deliver and as a consequence I performed much better than I would have done left to my own devices. We used to describe the situation as ‘sprinting marathons’ in one organisation. The best bosses will always help their people to sprint marathons. To sprint marathons and be good at it. To sprint marathons and consider that normal. To sprint marathons as a matter of course. It is often the team’s ability to sprint marathons that is the difference between a good business and a great business.
Anyone who has ever run a marathon will know the elation that it generates, the feel-good factor and the sense of satisfaction. Anyone who has ever been a member of a winning team will know the feelings that that generates. Sprinting a marathon as part of a winning team is an immense and ongoing achievement. It stretches each and every one of us.
When you consider your business, your team, or your role, are you happily and willingly sprinting marathons or would you describe it more as a comfortable daily wander? If so how much of a disservice are you doing yourself and the people around you? Nobody was created to be mediocre so don’t expect them to be. Don’t encourage them to be. As a leader it is your job to help each and every one of us to fight the pull of the average, of the mediocre and to help stretch each other to be the best we can be.