go the extra mile

Why Some People Go the Extra Mile

Why do some people really give a damn, while others do just what they can to get by? Going the extra mile – doing more than is necessary – creates memorable magic. If it feels so good, why is it hard to come by?

The HR term for this is >strong>discretionary effort, a close cousin of employee engagement. Discretionary effort is the level of effort people could give if they wanted to – above and beyond what is required.

Such efforts are often done behind the scenes in ways no performance appraisal system will recognize: it’s the exec who mentors more people than anyone would rationally do, the school cafeteria worker who arranges the kids veggies into smiley face, or the mom who puts just the right note into their child’s lunchbox each day.

Some Extra Miles I’ve Run Across Recently

  • Jared – I was inspired to write this post after I learned of the discretionary effort Jared, my nephew, modeled when asked to get his 8-year-old brother off the school bus on his last day of school. The job was simple. “Be sure he gets from the bus to the house safely.” Simple enough. Jared did that, but also blinged up the house with some “graduation” type hoopla. After all, how many times do you get to celebrate the sweet spot between ending 2nd grade and starting 3rd?
  • John – John is my web developer and is deep in the process of creating my LGL in Español site. Apparently, he’s been coming in behind me on the English version, and fixing spacing and other aesthetics to improve our community experience. He’s not billing me for this extra effort, but believes in the LGL cause. He then made a video walking me through my common formatting mistakes and how to fix them. This Saturday morning, he talked me out of what I asked him to do (and would have paid him for) and he was right.
  • Mike – Mike’s my kickboxing instructor. I pay ten bucks a class. He’s now created an obstacle course through the woods to make things more interesting. On Mother’s day he gave roses to all the mothers, and brought in all kinds of baskets to give away, including to the “oldest mother” in the class. He acted like he didn’t know who it would be. But as luck would have it, the oldest mom was the 60 something woman clearly out to make a major lifestyle change, hanging out with a bunch of athletes and doing her best.
The extra mile always chokes me up.

A Few Reasons People Go the Extra Mile

  1. They’ve Experienced It – I know Jared comes from a long line of extra milers. He cares deeply because he’s surrounded by loving examples. If you’re a parent go the extra mile – your kids are watching. If you’re a manager, do more than seems reasonable to support your employees. They may not seem to notice, but trust me, they do. Keep going the extra mile, and soon enough your team will be running right beside you.
  2. The Cause Matters – The truth is people volunteer for all kinds of stuff outside of work and don’t think twice. They’ll stay up late, they’ll schlepp kids all over the state, they’ll donate substantial time and money to causes that matter. Rally around the reason.
  3. You Care About Them As People – The other day I heard of some turmoil in an organization I led a while back. I was deeply concerned about the people, so I was immediately drawn back to care about the scene. No one would notice if I didn’t engage, and my husband wondered why I still cared so much. Business is always personal. You can’t lead well without investing deeply in the people involved. If you’re leading from the heart, you may need to jump back in the race and run a few folks in.

I’ll stop here so you can add to the list.

Posted in Employee Engagement & Energy and tagged , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.


  1. Karin,

    The cause or purpose will definitely facilitate people going the extra mile. Also, having a service-orientation or servant leader mindset will build a trigger within us to go the extra mile. It is the spirit of giving our time and effort to move things forward. Great conversation here. Thanks.


    • Thanks so much, John. So agree, having a servant mindset when leading inspires people to serve along with you.

  2. I think that this might be one of the unique things about the non profit world. Every employee I have goes beyond the call of duty. I’m almost always first man in, but I’m seldom last man out.

    But the best example I know is my local Beer Garden, Goodfriend Beer Garden and Burger House. The wait staff have twice organized and contribute toiletries for our clients. They have been more generous than any other donor to our cause in that way. They are led extremely well by their owners, who model giving back to the community. …..And they serve a lovely barrel aged stout….

    • Bill, what a great example. Yes, there seems to be a lot more of such energy in the non-profit world, because of the cause… and because the expectation is that the reward is intrinsic. Nice to hear about the beer garden support.

  3. I’ve always been unaware that there is a mile marker.

    I judge my efforts by what is best, not by what gets by. I judge my service by the measure of a person’s experience. Are they blown away? Good. If not, what did I do wrong (or occasionally, what is wrong with them?)

    • Thanks, Matt. You approach is great, and it’s fun to watch the magic you’re creating. I loved the chapter you wrote for our Parent’s Guide to Leadership. We should be going live very soon.

  4. Karin, I love when people take the opportunity to point out the bright spots in life. These are three beautiful examples of people who have gone out of their way to ignite the human potential in others. Thank you for sharing. From my experience, “cause” and “connection to other people” is what convinces individuals to go above and beyond. If they believe in the cause or the vision AND feel a love and respect to and from the people they are working with.

    Danielle Elizabeth Aaronson

    • Danielle so great to have you in the conversation. Great add. Connection really does go along way in inspiring effort.

  5. I think people will go the extra mile when they feel a connection to a bigger purpose as well as to the people involved. When we feel we can make a difference and those around us value our contributions, we feel empowered to lead in an extraordinary way.

    I was the president of a volunteer organization several years ago that is now experiencing leadership issues. I decided to jump in and offer my perspective to help them get out of their jam. The cause is important to me as are the people. I feel honored to guide them as they embark on their next step.

    Thanks Karin! Great post!

    • Terri, people and purpose. Amen. Thanks for sharing your story.

  6. Loved this post, Karin!

    You pose such a great question…my own observation is that people who are highly motivated are both curious and confident.

    People who are not curious rarely move beyond their current circumstances. And if they’re not confident, they don’t believe they can.

    Have a great week!

  7. Karin… I love this post and “Extra Miles”. It sounds like you have the perfect web designer! Tenured front line and leaders that give only what they have to when their best and their potential is light years ahead. My goal is to get them excited and see how high they can fly! And to Steve’s point… find a way that their work can align with who they are and what they love!I just received Seth Godin’s V is for Vulnerable and you both are singing the same song. Keep singing on and on and on! Thank you!

    • Lori, Hey there! So great to see you here and having you join the conversation. I agree with you, it’s so sad to see people performing below what they are capable fo contributing. I have Seth’s book right on my desk. Love it.

  8. I recently had a customer service experience where the person who was helping me absolutely went the extra mile. I think what made the difference was she did not only see her job as fixing my problem but also developing a relationship. We were two real people, not someone in a call center and the caller. It was an absolute pleasure to engage with her so authentically and it made me even more open to the value she could add in that amazing extra mile. (If anyone’s wondering, it was with Capital One)

    Great post, Karin!

    • Alli, Thanks, it really comes through in call centers (I’ve seen that from both sides of the phone and in spending a lot of my career working to inspire people to give what they are capable of). Thanks as always from weighing in.

  9. Great stuff! Not only valuable focus to ponder on, but a good lift to my spirits for the day.

    I would add that in an organization or family/group “system”, when people are given the flexibility to “do what’s right” and not be punished for it being outside of their ‘perview’ (sp?), then this happens more often. And then having it rewarded will take it even another step up.

    • James, Always appreciate your thoughts. Thanks for expanding the conversation. Love it… flexibility to do the right thing. Game on.

  10. When you have an emotional connection and are humble with your passion and God given gifts and talents, you will shine like the sun, big and bright. I’ve been blessed to lead, inspire and motivate others to have a healthy Mind Body and Soul. When God takes me to be with him, I hope he will say, my son, not only did you use your gift I gave, you shared it and showed others the beauty of my love for them.

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