Creative Leadership

No Standing Ovations for Average Work

Kathleen and I love the theater, and we attend plays as often as we can afford.  But we’ve both noticed something interesting in the last number of years.  It seems lately that every play we attend gets a standing ovation.  Sometimes it’s deserved, in the case of great plays and powerful performances.  But while most plays are good and very enjoyable, rarely do we see exceptional performances, and occasionally we see something that’s downright awful. But I can’t recall a show in the last few years that didn’t get a standing ovation at the end. In fact – as many actors will confirm – they plan on numerous ovations, and pretty much assume at least one of those ovations will be standing.

Perhaps it’s baby boomers, who after our experience with often-distant parents decided to raise our kids by “hovering” over them like helicopters.  I’m no expert on generations, but we’ve been through generations of kids who got trophies just for showing up! So many today have a remarkable sense of entitlement.

So maybe parents are trying to encourage everybody, and we do it with our kids, in the theater, at work – pretty much everywhere.

But I think it was theater legends Gilbert and Sullivan who said, “When everyone is somebody – then no one’s anybody!”  The truth is, when we give everyone a standing ovation, then real excellence loses it’s meaning.

Being honest is hard – with a co-worker, our kids, friends at church, employees – whoever.  But former General Electric CEO Jack Welch felt that if you don’t fire an underperforming employee, it’s not only hurting the organization, but it’s ultimately hurting them.  Because by leaving them on the job, you’re giving them a false sense of accomplishment.  It’s far better to remove them from a position where they’re failing, and help them find a job where their talents and skill allows them to succeed.  That’s a far better way of dealing with the issue than letting them continue failing.

I know churches that lose tens of thousands of dollars every year because of unqualified or inept employees.  Businesses lose billions for the same reason.  So what do we do?  Here’s some suggestions:

1)    Be honest.  Encourage people – but encourage something they actually do well.  It may take awhile to find it, but stop false encouragement.  No matter how much you want to inspire someone, if you congratulate them on something they’ve done poorly, you’re simply telling a lie.

2)    Take the time to discover their strengths.  Almost everyone is good at something.  Find out what it is and help them focus on that.  Be an encourager for the right reasons.  That will help people the most.

3)    Move or fire them if necessary.  If a co-worker or employee is failing, help them find a better job where they could succeed.

4)    As Aristotle said, “Know thyself.”  Examine your own life to make sure you’re learning, growing, and performing at your best.  Don’t “expect” a raise or promotion – make sure you’ve earned it.

Standing ovations for average work doesn’t help anyone.

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  1. We have championed the encourager so much that there doesn’t seem to be room for the prophet or exhorter.  Sometimes we just need to be told the truth. 

    RE: kids … We have tried to be deliberate about complimenting and encouraging them specifically.  You really took your time with that project and it shows.  Excellent job.  Or, I saw the way you handled the rudeness of your classmate and you showed a lot of maturity and grace.  That’s the difference between flattery and genuine praise.  I think it’s interesting that flattery is really more about the flatterer and their own pride, caring how they’re viewed than it really is about the person they’re speaking with.

    Zach just wrote a chapter in his new book "Lose Your Cool" that talks about his generation’s tendency toward hyperbole.  Really interesting perspective.

    There used to be only one Grand Champion ribbon. I’m all for standing O’s, but you’re right, let’s make them mean something. 

  2. I’ve felt much the same way about the Sydney Theatre Company. The last three or four productions I’ve seen were tediously boring. My wife infomrs me that I actually slept through an entire act featuring a topless performance by some actress playing some character I obviously didnt care for.

  3. Great observation Phil, well done, keep up the good work, your fantastic, amazing – no really!



  4. Phil,

     This goes back to Passions, Dreams and Destiny Code.  I agree with you on all accounts but to take is  step further. Here is the blog I wrote today(friday).


    God desires to express himself through man for His purpose. Right? He
    created man in his own image. Right. So the passions in your heart
    should be reflective of what you are doing, I am not talking about your
    Job. I am talking about the passions of your heart. This is your
    specific DNA code that God has given to you. Everyone whether they are
    Christian or not think they are special, this is because God has built
    us this way. We are special in Gods eyes, because we have a specific
    function here on earth. Just as a glove is made in the image of a hand,
    so also man is made in the image of God. So, you are in a ministry?
    Right? Are the Passions in your heart reflected in your Ministry if so
    then the Brand must be reflection of your passion and your ministry.


    To your point, people are hired for the wrong resons, if we know what they are passion about and what their God ordained DNA code is perhaps we can save hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue, but more importantly fullfill Gods plan and edify his Glory


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