Leadership Spotlight: Maintaining the Status Quo Doesn’t Lead to Greatness

This guest post is written by Tim Rahschulte, Ph.D, Chief Executive Officer, Professional Development Academy, in partnership with the NACo High Performance Leadership Academy as part of MACo’s Spotlight on Leadership series.

It was mentioned in the previous rule in this article: the best leaders have a general philosophy that things can always be better. Spend any amount of time with Yanni Charalambous, a vice president at Occidental Petroleum, and you’ll hear him say, “Good enough isn’t good enough if it can be better, and better isn’t good enough if it can be great.” This is true because good enough is often translated into just enough, adequate, fine, or status quo. Status quo is never good enough, because achieving status quo doesn’t enable you to get better. Nor does it equate to achieving big goals.

One of life’s simple maxims is this: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” Henry Ford used to say that, and Mark Twain and Tony Robbins had their own versions as did Steven Harvey, a senior vice president at HSBC North American Holdings, who said, “Challenge the status quo. Are we doing something because we’ve always done it, or can we do something better? Can we do it faster, can we do it more efficiently, can we do it cheaper?”

The message here is to set a vision beyond good enough, beyond the status quo, which is exactly the advice from Wes Hargrove, the senior vice president of development at 7-Eleven, who said, “As a leader, you’ve got to challenge the status quo.” It’s useful to keep this in mind as you consider your goals and cast your vision of a future state. As a leader, you want to think beyond the status quo to something big, because great things never come from maintaining the status quo. Now, to be sure, there are times when keeping the status quo may seem like a big goal and a big win. Taking the long view, however, maintaining the status quo is a losing proposition.

Take this advice from Gary Wimberly, a senior vice president at Express Scripts: “What’s gotten us where we are won’t allow us to be successful in the future.” That’s great advice to keep in mind. Executive coach Marshall Goldsmith wrote an entire book on this topic, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. To get “there” (any future state) from “here” requires change in our current state, not maintaining the status quo of it. It requires a vision that’s big and bold—and, as you’ll recall from the previous rule, a mindset of knowing achieving it is possible. Whether we’re aiming for personal greatness, which will require personal growth and behavioral change, or organizational greatness, which will require market growth and new innovation, the condition isn’t status quo; it’s big change.

It’s equally important to note here that your personal satisfaction as a leader is dependent upon change. Your satisfaction will never be realized by maintaining the status quo. To really understand this, let’s think about Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (now you understand why he’s known simply as Michelangelo) for a moment. He’s famous for a great number of things. Certainly, his ability as a sculptor, painter, architect, and poet likely come to mind. He’s also known for his teachings to set big goals. He said, “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

Ask yourself, are your goals set too low? Is your vision set to maintain the status quo or on achieving a big goal?

Instead of status quo, think big and then execute!


Interested in learning more about leadership tools and skills?

The NACo High Performance Leadership Academy is an innovative, completely online 12-week program created to equip frontline county government professionals with practical leadership skills to deliver results for counties and communities.

With a robust curriculum developed by the Professional Development Academy in partnership with Fortune 1000 executives, public sector leaders, world-renowned academics and thought leaders, including General Colin Powell and Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, HPLA was designed specifically for the unique challenges and opportunities of serving in county government.

Contact Luke Afeman with questions or to register today!

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