September 19, 2011

If you ask someone to make an exception for you, make sure it’s because you are delivering exceptional performance. If a policy, procedure, or rule is impeding your ability to perform, help team members succeed, or impress customers, then it’s your responsibility to suggest viable solutions and expect an exception.

Never ask for or accept an exception for any reason other than exceptional performance. Reversion to the mean is the reward for those that believe they are entitled to exceptions.

The only reason people so routinely ask for exceptions is that they’ve learned either directly or vicariously that almost any personal inconvenience can be justified as an exceptional circumstance. A culture of exceptions is bad for the reputation and performance of your organization, and that’s bad for your career. It’s deceptively easy to become part of the mediocre mass of folks that put daily pressure on leaders to lower standards to their own lackluster levels of comfort.

I have tremendous respect for people that can say in a matter-of-fact way “I dropped the ball on that one, but it’s my bad, I know what I did wrong, and I’ll try very hard to keep it from happening again.” Falling short does not make the sincere quest for excellence any less virtuous. Setting high standards for yourself and refusing to make excuses when you struggle to meet those standards guarantees you will be exceptional, because the majority of your peers have compared themselves among themselves and would rather ask for exceptions than assume full personal responsibility when things don’t go exactly the way they want.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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Comments (10)

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  1. Chris Ziomek says:

    Hi Bret. I really like your point about setting high standards for yourself and not making excuses when you fail. There will always be an excuse if you want to find one. Excuses waste time and energy justifying past failures, instead of dealing with those failures in the present and finding ways to overcome and learn from them. Excellence comes from finding ways to succeed in spite of difficulties and setbacks.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Chris! Excellence is a learned discipline. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Bret

  2. Mike Moore says:

    Very important Blog regarding “Never ask for or accept an exception for any reason other than exceptional performance.” Far too many times, managers relent or take their eye off the performance ball. I really believe the principle that”you don’t get what you expect, you get what you allow.”

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Mike. Sorry it took so long to approve it but your comment ended up in my spam filter! No worries. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Bret

  3. Casey Scott says:


    I enjoyed the post, I agree that to overcome mediocrity an organization must as a whole strive for excellence. In the work place the concept of excellence should not be defined by the median, rather the outliers above the curve.

    Exceptions for exceptional performance is new to me, but seems like an idea with merit.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Casey. The point I was trying to make is that as leaders, we should not feel pressured to make exceptions when people are clearly just trying to get by and using excuses when they don’t meet expectations. That’s bad for everyone in the organization. As individuals we have to see our role in supporting a culture of excellence and not mediocrity. Thanks! Bret

  4. Beth says:

    HI Bret, how timely this post is for me to red today, right now.

    I just had to email my Legal Department that I am missing my deadline to get them a new training document for review. This means they have one day less for their review cycle. That’s not good. In effect I am asking them to make an exception for me and push out their review with less time than they normally have to do it.

    What I did not say in the email was that my time was hijacked today by another project. It was a hot potato dropped in my lap by a different stakeholder. I was requested by my boss to make an exception and help on this project, which normally would not be on my list of things to do, because a big deadline was looming.

    Now because I granted an exception to Person A, Person B has to get less excellence from me.

    Though I couldn’t do much to avoid this situation, here are some things that are still within my power:

    1. I can apologize to Person B without mentioning or blaming Person A.
    2. I can work late tonight to get them their material to review (which I will do right after I send you this post).
    3. I can make my boss aware of this situation and its resolution in my next one-on-one meeting.

    I will take these actions gladly because I do want to give exceptional value and performance to my organization, and rationalization or recrimination doesn’t enter into my vision of performance excellence. I also think that my boss needs to know when I put in extra levels of effort, not so I can win points, but so he can be aware of where and when his direct report’s energy and expertise is being used, spot tends, and request additional resources so as not to exacerbate strain on existing ones.

    All this will ultimately support a culture of excellence and continue to make my workplace one where I want to keep contributing and receiving (sometimes!) due recognition for doing so.

    I love your sentence above, “Reversion to the mean is the reward for those that believe they are entitled to exceptions.”

    Entitlement issues are rampant in this world we live in. they are a cheap, lazy plane to dwell in. Let’s opt instead for the twin thrills of team achievement and individual integrity.

    Okay, gotta go edit a document — ! ! ! — Beth

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Hope it went well, Beth. They are lucky to have someone like you working for them. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Bret

  5. Mary Newman says:

    Your ideas remind me of a brilliant young student I taught a few years ago. You also look a lot like him. If I can ever figure out how to be part of LinkedIn I’ll enjoy participating. Take care, and my best to you and yours.
    Mary T. Newman,Ph.D.
    Wharton County Junior College
    Wharton, TX

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Mary!! So very glad you found my website and joined in the conversation. Without you in my life, this probably never would have happened. Thanks!! Bret