There is an old saw in the management/leadership literature that gets recycled from time to time. It suggests, roughly, that if you are a manager (or in more careless verbiage, a “leader”), you get what you tolerate.

The only way to eliminate what makes the performance of an organization suffer is to be unmistakably and consistently intolerant of it wherever and whenever it occurs. Or, better, before it appears.

What people know you are intolerant of, you are likely not going to get. So it is not so much what you encourage and reward that contributes to the performance of people in your organization. What you make unacceptable will define for people what is acceptable.

People play up to the boundaries of what will not be tolerated. Few will step over that line, if there are actual consequences for doing so. Most people will, however, stay in step behind that line by being as careless or indifferent or unthinking as the average acceptable employee is. It may be perverse to think about it that way. But if that’s the way most people think about it, you have no choice.

Leaders know that if they are tolerant of anything whatsoever that is an impediment on the path that needs to be taken, they will fail.


-Lee Thayer, Thought-Leader, Excerpt from Leadership Virtuosity: A Trove of Virtuoso Ideas