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Don't Just be Better; Raise the Bar

Written by Rebecca Okamoto on June 21, 2014

“I’m better than Joe.”

I'm having what seems to be the 50th conversation about Joe, one of my peers, with my team of direct reports. My operations team is excellent, and all deserving of promotion - but there are no spots open at this time.

To plead their case, my managers had a habit of pointing to Joe, and explaining to me how they were at least as good as he was. It was not fair they would point out, that they were denied the opportunity for promotion - Joe should be moved out. Eventually Joe became a frequent, and unproductive topic of conversation.

This time instead of justifying Joe's performance, I tried a different comparison.

I asked my managers to rank my peer group from best to worst. Predictably, Joe’s name was at the bottom. Mine was at the top. “How many of you think you are at least as good as Joe, or better?” I asked them.

They all raised their hands.

“So, just so I’m clear. You're telling me you are better than the worst person at the next level and you think that should be the criteria for your promotion”?


“Let’s say for a moment you are promoted based on Joe's performance - Congratulations - I’m now your peer. How many of you are competitive with me?”

More silence.

"How much effort are you spending comparing yourself to the low bar, instead of trying to exceed the high bar"?

Their comparison backfired because they were setting their comparison bar too low. With a high bar our conversations were forward focused.

Who hasn’t fallen under the curse of comparison? Now and again, it’s ok. But if you're increasingly focused on comparison - the "I'm better than" attitude could be backfiring on you.

When I fall into that trap, I remind myself that my goal is to exceed - not to slide by. And I reset my bar.

Here are 5 tips to keep you focused on excellence.

  • Keep focused on who you are and what you stand for. When you start focusing on someone else, you STOP focusing on yourself and what makes you unique.

  • Never compromise YOUR standards of excellence. Character matters. Are you going to compromise your standards to be be "better than" the lowest performer?

  • Choose to exceed. You will be known by your focus. Are you the one who is always comparing himself to others? Or are you the leader who always exceeds?

  • Know your walk away point. If you continuously feel undervalued, and you've done your best, it may be time to walk away and rediscover your passion.

  • Challenge yourself on your definition of success. Some people lead their entire careers chasing titles granted by someone else. We are more than titles. Success and satisfaction come from within.

Comparison is inevitable.

It is a curse is when we hold ourselves to the low bar, and a trap when we live our lives measured by someone else's bar.

Is it time to reset your bar?

The bar of excellence is in our control. And comparison is not a curse. It is a call to exceed.

Ready to reset your bar? Take a look at

Exceed Expectations Exceed Expectations: Lessons from a High Achiever

Still distracted by the other guy? Read

Distracted Dangers of Distraction

Want to break free from the corporate title chase? Here's one of the most popular posts on Evoke,

Corporate Titles The Curse of the Corporate Title

Check out Unlock Your Potential for more insight and inspiration.

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