Leadership and being Unreasonable

Currie Gauvreau
Contributing Writer
Direct Energy

I can still see his face when he said it: “I’m successful BECAUSE I am unreasonable”.  I was speechless.  I had always viewed the word “unreasonable” as a negative, as something to avoid.  He viewed it as a business mantra and a challenge to others to perform at a higher level.  We had just completed the post project debrief on a massive project and the Owner/President of the company was pointing out areas where the Project Manager had not performed at the level expected.  These were not blatant areas of concern, I am talking about minor challenges that in many cases a “reasonable” person would view as unavoidable such as late deliveries, wrong parts sent from the vendor, weather, etc.  As the General Manager, I held my tongue as it was not my place to contradict the President in this meeting, but when the meeting was over, I spoke up.  I defended the PM on most of the issues citing things that were out of our control.    The discussion got heated and I got emotional.  I finally just blurted out “you are just being unreasonable”!  He sat back and paused while he looked at me.  Then a calmness seemed to wash over him as he said, “I’m successful BECAUSE I’m unreasonable”.  He went on to explain that people can always do better, they just don’t know it and he had made a career of setting higher expectations than normal, and it lead to amazing successes.

As the years have passed this moment in time has stuck with me.  What he really meant was that although his expectations were perceived as unreasonable, he was simply asking for people, his team in particular, to perform at higher levels and have higher expectations than normal.  This resonated with me and I started to approach my life, professionally and personally, differently.  I began a journey of self-development and a higher level of consciousness regarding how I approached everything.  How can I be better, more effective and more efficient?  I challenged the norm and stretched my expectations for my performance.  As my career progressed and my managers grew to trust my ability, I was given more and more responsibility.  There were times when I was bordering on feeling overwhelmed.  But those words would ring in my ears: “I’m successful BECAUSE I am unreasonable” and I knew my current manager was simply challenging me to be better, to stretch my expectations of what I was capable of.  As I have become a more experienced leader I will often challenge my team in this same way, always pushing the limits on pace and standards, knowing that although challenging, they can deliver.

It’s not how good a leader you are, but how many leaders you develop, so you should always be helping your people develop, both individually and as a team.  But science tells us that nothing improves without change and that includes your team.  The change can be something significant such as a process or policy.  It can also be something small like trying something new or pushing someone outside of their comfort zone.  I like to call it the Challenge.  Human beings are innately designed to compete.  It’s in our DNA and how we have survived for thousands of years.  Use this to your advantage.  You will help your team improve and reach new heights simply by challenging them to do more.  Use the Seal 40% Rule which states: “when your mind tells you you’re done, you are actually only 40% there”.  Although that sounds dramatic, in particular within a business environment, is it really?  Aren’t we always competing?  If being unreasonable can lead to new heights and never before seen successes, why not.  Change your mindset and the mindset of those around you.  We are all capable of so much more than we think we are.

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