Leadership 3 min read

Demand Gold

Pursue excellence or step aside.

No one rises to low expectations. One of my colleagues shared that saying with me based on her own classroom experience. To this day, I think it captures a very important part of our company’s culture. It helps bring excellence to life, which is one of our four corporate values. My whole life, I’ve been driven by an innate desire to achieve excellence in anything I put my mind to accomplish. The value transpired in how I engaged with my grades, jobs, sports, and now building my company.

One of the most challenging parts of building a business is managing people. I fundamentally believe it is because people do not like the idea of being told what they need to do and by when. They’d much rather have the freedom to decide that on their own. The best managers go beyond those things and engage with their people in a way that gives them ownership over their work and outcomes.

As we’ve continued to grow, I’ve realized that excellence has very different outcomes depending on who is interpreting what that means. In fact, when you push people to revise and recreate, more often than not, there is a lot of push back. In the short-term, people may even resent you. This happened for me with one of my colleagues a few months ago. Nothing she did the first time around was good enough. Most people’s first draft are not. The deadlines I was setting were unreasonable. I was pushing her too hard. At times, I felt guilty. I knew how hard she was working to impress me. However, I felt like I owed her the critical feedback so she could grow and develop.

After a few months of working with one another, her work quality and ability to work under pressure improved. More importantly, when she reflected on the thing she appreciated most over the course of the previous quarter, she said it was how hard I pushed her to achieve. Not only was she amazed at how much she accomplished, but also she was proud of every one of her work products.

That experience solidified for me one of the more important leadership lessons that I’ve learned to date, which is that you have to demand gold or excellence from your team people. Your customers will benefit and they will grow as professionals.  

Karim Abouelnaga is the founder & CEO of Practice Makes Perfect an evidence-based full-service summer school operator for urban K-12 schools that leverages a unique near-peer learning model to drive academic outcomes. 

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