Leaders have relentlessly high standards – many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Amazon Leadership Principles

Jeff Bezos, in his Letter to Shareowners 18-4-18, highlights how leaders can, and why they should, aim for very high standards.

1) Make them teachable

High standards are teachable; the standards you expose people to are the standards they adopt; (Reminds me of Lt General Morrison AO used it in 2013: the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.)

2) Keep them domain specific

You can believe yourself to be a ‘high standards person’ but you will still have blindspots – you need to be keep learning and keep developing your standards across various domains. Each domain is different.

3) Make sure they are recognisable

To develop and keep high standards you need to be able to recognise what it looks like. Bezos uses two examples to illustrate: the first is learning to do perfect handstands, and the other is writing a six page narrative. It’s much easier to recognise a perfect handstand than it is to crystalise what makes a six page narrative great.

4) Coach scope

Critically, we fail to understand how much effort high standards are. To do either of these two activities to a very high standard is much harder than it seems – we typically underestimate the scope of the challenge. Bezos says it’s important to ‘explicitly coach realistic scope.’

High standards take time

This is the area that is probably most challenging: realistic scope means time. If it will take six months to learn to execute a perfect handstand, you need to be coached that that’s how long it will take. Underestimating how long you think it will take to learn how to do the handstand means you are more likely to give up – you won’t achieve the high standard. Unless you’re a brilliant writer, believing you will write a great six page narrative a day before it’s due, is not likely to lead to success.

Maybe this seems a little old fashioned, but taking time to do things well is worth it. Everyone needs the skill to recognise high standards, and live to them even when no-one is watching. Doing work well becomes its own reward.

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