The Powerful Side Effect of High Standards

My friend, Regina, says that she considers a kid’s book report a win if only one person ends up crying. I remember the wailing and gnashing of teeth I put my parents through in the early years. And last night was one of those nights at the Hurt household. My husband, a firefighter, was on an overnight shift, so it was just me, Sebastian, a bucket of Swedish Fish and the promise of a very long night.

I imagine most parents are familiar with the “I didn’t start early enough, and now we need to go to the Walgreens for supplies, stay up half the night and get up early in the a.m., finish just in time to get to school with wet hair and no breakfast kind of loving feeling.”

What makes these nights so hard is that the parent holds the standards.

“Nope, that’s not what the rubric says. We have to follow the guidelines or you’ll lose points.”

“I know it’s late, but your handwriting is getting really sloppy. I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to re-write that part.”

Cue the tears.

“Okay, you’ve done all the basics, now how are we going to make this really stand out?”

“But Mom…”

It be much easier to just get through the basics. After all, it’s JUST a book report.

The Powerful Side Effect

And then there’s the side effect. On the ride to school this morning, Sebastian was glowing. “I think this is the best report I’ve ever done.” “I’m sure this is going to be the very best one.” “I can’t imagine I won’t get an A.” “I can’t wait to show my teacher.” And my personal favorite, “Mom, you know you did a really good job too.” 😉

Pride. Confidence. Energy.

Too often I see managers back off their standards, letting their team just get by. After all it’s only a ______.

That’s not leadership.

Tough standards, gentle inspiration.

When you’re tempted to buy into “This is impossible,” consider the side effect.

See also The Power of Great Expectations

7 Ways to Outsmart the Competition: The Series

This is the final post in the series of 7 ways to outsmart the competition. Links below. I’m considering turning this into a keynote. What do you think?

1. Get there early

2. Be an explainer

3. Pay attention to your own game.

4. Help your team get smarter

5. Be easy to follow

6.Ignore them 

7. And today’s: Hold a higher standard


Posted in confident humility, Employee Engagement & Energy, Everything Else, Results & Execution and tagged , , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells - building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. I can remember nights like that from my youth. It’s interesting, they don’t do reports like that in primary school here so it’s not been the experience yet in our household. While it’s a tough night, it’s a lesson that lasts forever.

    • Ahhhh, maybe I should just move to Austrialia 😉 This month, social studies fair. We’re starting sooner.

  2. I remember those nights with my daughters and sometimes I just wished I wasn’t as involved and that the projects were meant for just the kids, not the parents too. Having said that, I think parents are our first coaches and the kids today learn to work with coaches in a positive way from an early age.

    Thanks Karin! And yes turn this into a keynote!

    • Terri, Thanks so much! Yeah, I too had that feeling. Shouldn’t kids be able to do this on their own? But the truth is, he did need support. It’s important we scaffold our teams as needed to help them grow.

  3. I really needed this this morning Karin! I’ve diligently continued to follow your blog and am inspired every day. After working for a company like Verizon for 10+ years it’s been challenging to adjust to a much more “casual” work environment with “casual” expectations. And I’m sure just as challenging for my employees to adjust to my higher expectations! MANY times I have found myself thinking “why am I spinning my wheels” or “maybe I should just go with the status quo”. NO! Thank you for reminding me that I didn’t go through months and months of personal and professional development for nothing! There’s a reason I’m here – and part of that is to (gently) help prepare my team for changes that are coming in this organization and to prepare myself to be a part of that change. The other reasons… well, I’m sure those will come with time 🙂

    • Natalie, Great to hear from you! Thanks so much. Hang in there, and keep those standards up!

  4. Hmmm, this is an interesting take, but I have mixed feelings. As a college professor, I see the effect of TOO much parental coaching and the fact that parents didn’t let their kids fail and take responsibility for their actions. Yes, this coaching them and holding them to high standards helps our kids to learn how to accomplish these standards, but if we bail them out every time then they don’t learn how to plan for deadlines and how to take ownership in their own work. They just procrastinate and hope someone else will solve their problem. Then they get to college and really struggle because they were not taught time management and how to be responsible for their own actions. I am not suggesting this is you every time Karin, I’m sure its not so please don’t take offense, but I felt the need to point out this important counterpoint to part of this story here.

    • Jennifer, Excellent addition. Totally agree. How can we prevent this next time must be part of the coaching.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.