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Mandatory Greatness: Leadership Is A Magnificent Intolerance

Mandatory Greatness: Leadership Is A Magnificent Intolerance

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NOTE: This is a book excerpt with minor edits from Mandatory Greatness: The 12 Laws Of Driving Exceptional Performanceby J.T. O’Donnell and Dale Dauten.

Leadership is a magnificent intolerance.

Yvonne urges our young manager to demand more of himself and his colleagues by having “a magnificent intolerance” for mediocrity. He challenges his new mentor, accusing her of being needlessly negative by talking about “intolerance.” Here, she responds…

Without my realizing it, maybe I’m trying to counter all the happy-talk management. But I started emphasizing “intolerance” after reading the work of consultant and statistician Davis Balestacci, who argues that organizational culture is largely defined by what you tolerate. If you’re OK with missing deadlines but getting close, then that’s the standard. If you’re OK with setting low targets to make sure you hit them, and then putting in a little padding, just in case, well, padding is the standard. So the dividing line becomes what you will and won’t tolerate. To be great, you have to be intolerant:

You don’t get what you want or what you need; you get what you refuse to accept less than.

“We now have a workplace where virtually all employees were raised on positive reinforcement. The unintended consequence is systematic self-satisfaction. Managers get positive reinforcement from giving positive reinforcement, creating a spiral of self-congratulation. The result is feel-good management that, sadly, often translates to soft, slow management.

“The antidote is to shove the organization along another axis, the competitive-surprise-experimentation one. The increase in performance in an organization is predictable: you get only as much as you demand.”

Mandatory Greatness is presented as a conversation between a high-powered business coach, Yvonne Wolfe (described as having “skirts of steel”), and a young manager who won a day of her coaching in a charity raffle. She observes him in his work, then offers a stark and startling analysis of him and his approach to his job: By imitating other managers he is making himself “a commodity product” destined for “inadvertent mediocrity.” She then teaches him to remake himself into a highly-valued teammate and a true leader using The 12 Laws of Driving Exceptional Performance.

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