Expectations For Success

December 22, 2010

Seth Godin wrote yesterday that the first rule to doing work that matters is to go to work on a regular basis. That is a simple yet powerful principle. It’s impossible to be remarkable if you choose not to show up.

In every class I teach, I list these four simple expectations on the first page of the syllabus:

1.   Come to every class, on time and prepared.

2.  Maintain a relaxed but orderly and professional environment in class.

3.  Give each other our best effort at all times.

4.  If you ever have a problem or complaint about anything associated with the course, I expect you to give me an opportunity to resolve the issue.

I tell my students these are the minimum expectations for success. I crafted these expectations based on my experience in the workplace, not on my experience teaching. To the extent they consistently choose to do these things, they will experience a degree of success. The highest rewards will never go to those that consistently choose not to do these simple things.

I’ve been in several situations in my life where I’ve looked around the room at my peers and competition and realized I was not the most talented or intelligent person in the room. In a few of those situations, people in positions of leadership and influence were ever so kind to tell me to my face that in their opinion I did not measure up.

My approach has always been to focus on the things I can control and not worry about the things I can’t. I’ve consistently found that showing up every time, on time, prepared to give my best effort leads to some measure of success.  As much as anything else, I believe that success is a pattern of learned behaviors.

Don’t let your peers be your benchmark. If you do, the best you will ever achieve is the mediocrity of competitive parity. I think you will find that all too often your peers have set the bar surprisingly low. 

Give yourself permission to hold yourself to a higher standard. Show up willing to do the things others are not willing to do.

What do you tell others about your expectations for success? Please share your thoughts in the space below, I’d love to hear from you!

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Comments (16)

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  1. Brett thank you
    The part about if there is a problem or complaint the expectation is you give me the opportunity to resolve it.
    When working with corporate managerial leadership programs, people try to change and create issues with the process and the curriculum. Instead of speaking with me, they create in internal apathy with others. Then it gets called to my attention in behaviors and accountability meetings with the decision makers who hired me.

    Any advice on working with people who do not come to you with a complaint? and how to continually have people feel at ease to come to you to resolve the issues?

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    That’s a tough one, Michael. I don’t think you will ever eliminate that internal talking. They need each other to help make sense of their experience. And it’s easier to complain than it is to participate in learning and improving, but that has to be the continual message. I also try to speak openly of how I deal with managing situations like the one you describe. I think it’s important to let others observe and participate in your learning process. Thanks! Bret

  2. Jim Taggart says:

    Thanks for these thoughts Bret, which are among the most insightful you’ve shared. The aspect of benchmarking and setting the bar is particularly important to our own personal learning journies and career development, key ideas to carry forward into 2011….J

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    We’ve been led to believe that benchmarking is a good thing, but it is a certain recipe for mediocrity. Do something different and let others benchmark you is a better approach. Thanks, Jim! Bret

    Jim Taggart Reply:

    Love that notion of having others benchmark you. It flips the mindset around, stimulating self-empowerment.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    I know we do it a lot, but don’t you hate trying to copy what others are doing? I do. Thanks, Jim. Bret

  3. Brett, I think that one of your comments has a deeper point that you may not be aware of:

    I’ve been in several situations in my life where I’ve looked around the room at my peers and competition and realized I was not the most talented or intelligent person in the room.

    I think the key thing to take from this, is not that one cannot be the best in every situation, but more that each individual may not be the most talented or intelligent in the area that currently matters. Hence why you feel that lesser status. If placed in another situation with those same individuals, you likely will see that those people fall far short of where you do.

    Comparative advantage is an interesting idea, and is so applicable in the work environment. You need to know your strengths, accept your weaknesses as areas for change, and be willing to have the courage of your convictions to tell everyone that you know what you excel at, and they can do the other things.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Christian. Great point about the contingent nature of excellence. My assumption is that if I find myself in a work or other professional situation, I’m there by choice. That means I do my best to play to my strengths, but I can’t make excuses for my weaknesses. If I ever find myself in a situation where I look around and think to myself that I am the smartest or most talented person in the room, I personally think that spells trouble for several reasons. Thanks! Bret

  4. davidburkus says:

    “It’s impossible to be remarkable if you choose not to show up.” – Reminds me of something mad Dad stole from Woody Allen: 90% of success is showing up.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    And I bet Woody stole it from someone else. Thanks, David. Bret

  5. ANSHUL GUPTA says:

    Nice post Bret. n comments are more interesting. Thanks.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Got some great conversation. Thanks, Bret

  6. Elad Sherf says:

    Great great post. I saved it so I can read it again. I asked myself, what can we actively do to make sure we allow our employees (or students) to live up to these expectations. After all, it is not only but setting them, but also about helping the people we work with make them a reality. Wrote my thoughts about that here: http://bit.ly/gsMRUU
    Thanks so much for sharing!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    I agree, Elad, that we should always be thinking about how we can help others live up to high expectations. Thanks for sharing! Bret

  7. Joe Russo says:

    I’ve always enjoyed this quote, and it seems apropos to your entry…

    “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

    — Calvin Coolidge

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    love that quote Joe. thanks for sharing. I am reading a book right now about the power of making consistent progress, even if the wins are small. thanks. Bret