5 Feelings that Signal Failure is Near

Excellence is war. Business as usual means mediocrity prevails.

It’s one thing to pursue excellence as an individual. But, how can leaders make the pursuit of excellence a matter of culture?

pursuit of excellence

Scaling Up Excellence,” by Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao, takes readers deep into the battle of pursuing exceptional on an organizational level. Sutton and Rao believe five destructive feelings infect teams and weaken organizations.

5 Feelings that Signal Failure is Near

#1. Fear that it is safer to do nothing than take responsibility. “Silence is one of the most reliable signals that people are afraid to take personal responsibility…”


  1. Excellence includes self-criticism, owning mistakes, and pointing out “bad.”
  2. “Be noisy and mindful error makers.”
  3. Reject finger pointing.

#2. Fear of being ostracized, or socially excluded that allows bullying to take root.


Turn social pressure upside down by recruiting “cool” members of the team to model “good” behaviors.

#3. Feeling that no one is watching, so you can do whatever you want.


  1. Bright lighting.
  2. Frequent check-ins.
  3. Open doors.
  4. Connecting with the people you serve.

#4. Feeling like you’re getting a raw deal – injustice – encourages bad behavior. The main reason employees steal is to get even for perceived injustices.


  1. Treat people with dignity.
  2. Explain why things are happening.
  3. Communicate future plans.

#5. Feeling powerless to stop bad forces and events – helplessness.


Empower by convincing people there are steps they can take now to make things better.

Bonus: The best way to eliminate the worst and bring out the best is to focus on the people who are impacted by what teams/organizations do and away from members own needs and wants.

(This post is based on pages 251 to 258 of, “Scaling Up Excellence.”)

What are the enemies of organizational excellence?

How can leaders make the pursuit of excellence part of organizational culture?