“The best way to demotivate and lose top performers is to reward mediocrity in an attempt to maintain status quo” (Jameson St Claire)

Governments do it. Many big corporates do it. They reward poor performance to maintain the status quo. Governments prop up ailing industries at the expense of those same industries, of necessity, reinventing themselves. Like a line from the film “The Incredibles”, governments “keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity”, often paying large bonuses to executives when their respective companies are in dire straits. Some corporations support dysfunctional departments, sometimes only requiring cosmetic changes from departmental leaders to keep them functioning. Favouritism and other ills stand in the way of expecting greatness and performance is not consistently measured. Past contexts and difficulties are used as excuses for mediocrity and the stage gets set for lethargy, indifference and entitlement. As a result, top performers typically leave (the company or the country) – they find a new environment where performance is recognised and diligence and discretionary effort are rewarded.

Some of the subtle (and not so subtle) ways that governments and/or companies reward mediocrity include one or more of the following practises:

  • Huge bail-outs of grossly mismanaged state-owned enterprises, using tax-payer money to do so
  • Nepotism – preferences given to friends or family for state tenders or positions
  • Favouritism – opportunity given to a few who are usually close allies of those in power
  • Not speaking up against poor performance – keeping quiet to guard manipulative relationships
  • Generous government subsidies that protect mega companies from local competition or shield them behind trade barriers
  • Appointment of underperformers to company boards as “yes-men”
  • Etc.

Poor and (in some cases) evil leadership creates an environment where ordinary citizens “give up” and seek greener pastures elsewhere. For the remainder who can’t afford to leave and who recognise the malpractice, despondency sets in and an entitlement spirit starts dominating – the government or company owes us something. People start strategizing and living for what they can get rather than for what they can give. The environment has been poisoned.

Quality integrity-based leadership is non-partial regarding values and principles – for these leaders, values can’t be customised to suit a context or a desire. They recognise that fairness, honesty and treating people with dignity are qualities that form behaviour patterns that people will, in turn, respect and that drive a generous response of “what can we offer the company/nation?” These leaders:

  1. Live in alignment to values, constitutions, the law and accepted cultural norms – they don’t manipulate the environment to suit selfish desires
  2. Set an example – their performance, dedication and behaviour match expectations
  3. Demonstrate compassion and are forgiving – they are firm regarding requirements, but recognise the frailty of the human being
  4. Communicate the vision with clarity – get everyone to buy in to the “big picture” and to understand the importance of everyone’s involvement in the way ahead
  5. Give honest feedback – people need to know how well they are doing and areas of needed improvement
  6. Recognise and reward true performance – people quickly see through the sham of undeserved bonuses and rewards

A sense of entitlement is often induced by poor leadership. Celebrating mediocrity engenders a climate of despondency, laziness and indifference. Great leadership, on the other hand, demands top performance and rewards it well.

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