Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

December 16, 2013

Should you ever lower your standards?

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fifth in a six-part series exploring values-based leadership by Chris Hitch, director of the Gen. H. Hugh Shelton Leadership Center. 

Gen. Shelton notes in his book Without Hesitation that “an effective leader is not a hands on micro-manager; in fact, the freer rein you give your people, the more they will excel — as long as you’ve communicated your objectives and expectations and surround yourself with good, independent thinkers who are not afraid to speak up” (p. 112).

He’s talking about how a values-based leader has high standards. The values-based leader always strives to do what is right. Yet, Shelton also shows that a values-based leader mixes in a generous dose of compassion with standards: 

“You have to understand that, for a certain reason, individuals might have certain things they are wrestling with in life. For example, you may be on a school bus riding to school, and the person next to you is having a bad day. For whatever the reason, they’re not their self. But you’ve got a compassion for them because you recognize that something is going wrong. When you have someone who has had a tragedy in their family, you recognize that you know they’re a great employee, but they’re not having their best day or their best week because of this tragedy.”

The lesson for me is that you don’t lower your standards. You expect everybody to do their best and achieve their personal and organizational goals. You do recognize, however, that you have to get to know the members of your team, to know what is going on with them, to the extent that you and the other person feel comfortable sharing. That knowledge helps you to understand how much they have on their plate and whether you need to adjust and give some additional time, if possible, to help them reach their 100% goal accomplishment for themselves and for the organization.

That’s compassion. 

Where have you seen a values-based leader keep standards high while simultaneously demonstrating compassion?

Chris Hitch, Ph.D., is director of the Gen. H. Hugh Shelton Leadership Center and program director of the Poole College of Management Executive Education at North Carolina State University.

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