Art of Managing-Kick Mediocrity to the Curb in Pursuit of Extraordinary

ArtofManagingMediocre is on display daily in too many areas of our society and in too many of our businesses. From the boss who just doesn’t care to our government seemingly barely functioning to the miserable help-lines of too many firms to the slow gait…the shuffle of retail workers at organizations that definitely don’t care, ordinary and average are epidemic.

Mediocrity has a way of numbing our senses and taking the fight out of us. It impacts everyone at all levels of leadership and all employee groups. Individually and collectively, we reduce our standards to the lowest accepted level and then shuffle along dispensing the ordinary until something shocks our system. Often, the shock comes too late.

As a manager, you play a critical part in either perpetuating mediocrity or helping your team break free in pursuit of extraordinary. The latter is a lot more fun and rewarding for all involved.

8 Ideas to Kick Mediocrity to the Curb in Pursuit of Extraordinary:

1. Start with the belief that your attitude and your actions will make a difference. In a world where mediocre is the norm, your extraordinary effort to help, serve, lead, please, thank, teach, manage, fix and engage will all be noticed. Not by everyone, but by many of us.

2. If your team works on the phone, teach them to lead with their smiles. Customers hear smiles over the phone and that helps us forget that we just navigated a 42-step phone-tree and a 36-minute wait seeking someone who could explain how to work a feature on the device in our hand that has more technology than the entire Apollo program which sent humans to the moon and successfully retrieved all of them.

3. If your team works in front of customers teach them to lead with direct eye contact and a smile. I don’t care if you are the manager at XYZ Big Box or the Shift Supervisor at the Driver’s License Bureau, the only downside of your employees smiling and making eye contact will be the fainting and momentary loss of equilibrium of your customers. They’ll recover and you’ll have changed the world in your own small way. (Note: in some cultures, direct eye contact is frowned upon. Let’s assume a U.S. based business.)

4. Extraordinary starts with the behaviors you model you set as a manager. Define “extraordinary” in your environment and then teach and model the behaviors. If you don’t, who will?

5. Set expectations for performance that is extraordinary.  Create a culture that enforces accountability for the right results and reward those who deliver.

6. Remember, extraordinary isn’t just for external customers. Model extraordinary across employee groups and watch it grow.

7. Eliminate those who don’t really care. Not everyone will respond to your guidance and teaching. Not everyone aspires to extraordinary. Encourage those who are comfortable with mediocrity to practice this approach by working for your competitors.

8. Make hiring for extraordinary a religion. Not everyone is suited to extraordinary in every environment. Your challenge is to identify those underlying values and behaviors that are so critical to transcending mediocrity in your world and then recruit and hire for those items. Few of us would pass Southwest Airlines’ rigorous filters for fun and love of people and Zappos is so committed to getting just the right people, the firm offers new employees a cash incentive to leave once they’ve completed the firm’s training program. In Zappos’ case, it’s cheaper and more productive to pay someone who isn’t feeling the firm’s definition of “extraordinary” to leave than to retain them and have them poison the well.)

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Kicking mediocrity to the curb doesn’t require expensive consultants, confusing restructuring or an epiphany around strategy. It’s common sense coupled with a strong sense of personal accountability to teach, model and reward the behaviors that promote extraordinary in your organization.

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By | 2016-10-22T17:11:21+00:00 May 6th, 2013|Art of Managing, Leading Change, Management Innovation|10 Comments

About the Author:

Art Petty is a coach, speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. When he is not speaking, Art serves senior executives, business owners and high potential professionals as a coach and strategy advisor. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.


  1. Wanda Whitson May 9, 2013 at 9:55 am - Reply

    So simple, yet so powerful. These are what make great leaders, in both professional and personal lives. Thank you for this great article.

    • Art Petty May 9, 2013 at 10:54 am - Reply

      Thanks, Wanda. My pleasure. -Art

  2. Hermine May 9, 2013 at 10:34 am - Reply

    Art, I enjoyed your post. Management can really set the tone when it comes to work environment. As the leader of a team, you can’t expect your employees to care if you show them that you don’t. More so, I think that giving a damn really comes down to common courtesy, whether you’re dealing with customers or other people in the organization.

    Put on a smile, say please and thank you and show people that you care – it’s contagious and creates an environment that’s pleasant for everyone.

    • Art Petty May 9, 2013 at 10:53 am - Reply

      Hermine, thanks for your common-sense wisdom! I agree! -Art

  3. Suzanne Hooley May 9, 2013 at 10:34 am - Reply

    This is a GREAT read, Art … found your post in my “SmartBrief on Leadership” e-mail ! Thanks for the reminders … all of these are “common sense, but not commonly applied”! Love your dry wit too … you’ve verbalized some of my own frustrations that I experience both as a manager AND as a customer!
    I’m subscribing to your blog … keep up the great writing and inspiring posts!! ~ Suzanne Hooley (Marketing Director, Controlled Power Company, Troy MI).

    • Art Petty May 9, 2013 at 10:53 am - Reply

      Suzanne, thanks for your kind words! Great to have you here. I look forward to sharing many ideas together. -Art

  4. Nick Jaworski May 26, 2013 at 7:30 pm - Reply

    The biggest challenge for me in my current role is dealing with those who aspire to mediocrity without strong support from recruitment for better replacements. I work in a business where our employees need to form strong, long-lasting relationships with customers and any kind of turn over has a very large business impact. As a manager, I try hard to consistently demand high accountability and extraordinary performance, but when people don’t deliver, it’s hard to follow through because 1) their replacement is not likely to be much stronger and 2) the short-term business impact is scrutinized heavily by upper management.

    If you don’t have influence in the hiring process and have to constantly balance the needs of the business, what is your advice for kicking mediocrity to the curb? I would say leading by example is the first start, but, if an employee isn’t that excited to be in the job in the first place, they’re often happy to let others like yourself go the extra mile just so they don’t have to. Thoughts?

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