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Today, we’re talking about high standards. Speaking of high standards (and, for all intents and purposes, being cool), I need to disclose that I was a marching band kid in high school. But even before that, I was in 5th grade band. Just as my glasses were bigger than my face, my instrument was bigger than the rest of my body. I was an awkward kid in awkwardly short pants carrying an awkwardly large instrument case to school.

But, I loved it. And I had to start somewhere. The book the class learned to read music from was called “Standards of Excellence.” As a 5th grader, I thought it was such a long-winded, unnecessary name. Just call it, “The Music Book,” for all I care. All I want to do is learn how to be the best French horn player west of the Mississippi.

Whether or not I did become the best French horn player west of the Mississippi is irrelevant (I didn’t). What’s important here is that we had to learn the basics of music before we could jump into jammin’ with the big kid 9th grade orchestra. By exposing us to talented musicians and music that challenged us, our instructor taught us – at an early age – what excellence looked like. He set high expectations. The best of the best are the only ones who continued to pursue the art.

Awkward 5th grade band isn’t too far from real life as a leader. As I sat down to write this post, the phrase “standard of excellence” popped into my head. Just as my band teacher taught us what excellence looked like, we need to model the way for our peers and be a positive example of leadership.

In other words, we need to set the standard. Let’s break that down. What is a “standard?” It’s a norm or a requirement of your social or professional circle. What do the norms look like in your life or in your workplace? Maybe it’s acceptable to start meetings late. Maybe it’s OK to turn in half-finished assignments. Or, maybe it’s not.

Either way, are you pleased with these norms? Perhaps your standards need a little sprucing up. So, what are you going to do about it? How are you setting the standard? If someone in your organization wanted to know who truly embodies the company’s values, would your name come up?

As leaders, we are not able to hold other people to high standards if we don’t meet the standards ourselves. If, as a college musician, I witnessed the conductor arriving late to rehearsals or ignoring mediocre performance, how might that impact my own behavior or attitude toward the craft? I would have lost interest, and what’s worse, respect.

Next time you face a challenge and find yourself wanting to turn in a paper late, be tardy to a staff meeting or thinking f*ck is the only acceptable word you can use when expressing your frustration to your boss, remember that 5th grader who is craving to be more excellent. Use a little tact. We can all stand to be a little more excellent each day, and even the little things make a difference.

You have to start somewhere.

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