Chuck was the best of the twenty-four candidates. Still, he didn't have exactly what I was looking for and my instincts warned me of his unusual personality. Yet the skills required for the job were specialized and he had most of them, and I'd been interviewing for five months, and my boss wanted the position filled before the budget process started. No, he might not be perfect, but he would be ok.
So I hired Chuck. As a new manager, it was a decision I came to regret. Chuck turned out to be a marginal performer, never grew into the job, and drew frequent complaints from his teammates. It might have taken me five months to hire Chuck, but it took me eighteen to fire him. Still, I'm grateful for the experience. Chuck taught me a lesson I applied in my next twenty years in management: don't settle.
When you settle, you choose mediocrity. Don't settle for the best of the worst. Keep looking. Don't settle for something that's barely okay. Push to make it better. Don't settle for average work from others when exceptional is needed. And don't settle for delivering good when you're capable of better. Expect more from yourself. Then expect more from others.
Whenever I've settled, the work or decision comes back like a boomerang, reminding me to keep my standards high. As W. Somerset Maugham says, "It is a funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it." I know that's been my experience.
There's a story I like about Phidias, a Greek sculptor working on the Acropolis. As he was finishing a statue of Athena, which would stand a hundred feet high next to a marble wall, an onlooker asked, "Why are you chiseling strands of hair on the back of her head where no one will see them or even know they're there? "I'll know," replied Phidias.
I wish I would have found a cabinet maker with that same attitude when we were building our home. When we moved in, we discovered tops of cabinets uncapped and unstained. It's true no one would see them. But, it was not the quality of work we expected, paid for or wanted. The cabinet maker had settled for mediocre. But we didn't. We had him do them over.
People who are winning at working know when good is not good enough. They operate like Phidais, not our cabinet maker. They understand that quality work is not an accident. It's a deliberate focus that starts with high personal standards. People who are winning at working don't settle for mediocre. Not in others. And not in themselves.
(c) 2011 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.
Award winning author of Hitting Your Stride (Capital Books; 2008). Nationally syndicated radio host of "Work Matters with Nan Russell." Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. Sign up to receive Nan's "Winning at Working" tips and insights at http://www.nanrussell.com; follow on twitter @nan_russell