Some of you might be thinking that the last person you can think of that would encourage somebody to lower the bar would be me. Now before you overreact and think that I’ve gone soft in the noggin in my old age, hang with me for a few paragraphs. This might sound counterintuitive, but it is true.

What? You’re not serious!

One of the contributing factors for people underachieving is that the expectations, the desired result, the goal is too big; the bar is too high. They can’t get their head, heart or hands around it so are not motivated to go for it.

You shouldn’t expect a new music student to play a flawless piece after one or two lessons.  A kid trying out for the basketball team is not going to be motivated in being a 90% free-throw shooter at the start of his first season. Okay, I will admit that there are a few (and very few) exceptions here, but this is not the norm.

Here’s the principle: 

“Lower the bar” in the short term so you can raise it in the long term. 

It works with raising children, training pets, becoming good at anything you do. How did the trainer get that monkey, elephant or seal  to do all those tricks? One step at a time!

A fledging high jumper doesn’t have a goal to break the world record in the first few years. But it might be his longer-term goal.  So he starts out with a lower (challenging, but accomplishable) bar and then incrementally work his way up.

No new coach in his right mind would try to motivate a team with a five year loosing record to go for the National Championship in his first year. If he does, the team will be de-motivated and achieve another loosing season. This coach sets a challenging, but realistic, goal and then another and another until, voila, they have won the the big prize!

It’s like climbing a tall ladder and focusing on the next step rather than gawking up at the top and giving up all hope.

If the people you lead are facing a daunting task and their instinct is to avoid it with grave doubts eating away at them, the bar may be too high. Lower the bar by breaking down the desired end into smaller steps. Make the steps achievable so that they can’t help but score victory after victory; and be sure to profusely celebrate each and every win, however small! Just as less can be more over the long haul, so can lower be higher over the long haul.

What has been your experience with this idea? Do you resonate with it? I’d love to hear from you.