Mediocrity Sucks

I first taught leadership and management to university students about 11 years ago when I started my doctoral program at Oklahoma State University. On the last day of class in the very first classes I ever taught, I used to give students my “two-cents” worth – advice on how to manage themselves and their careers going forward.

One of the things I had on that last overhead slide was this – mediocrity sucks. I learned that from my 18 years in organizational life, not from academia.

Bret L. Simmons: Mediocrity Sucks from Bret Simmons on Vimeo.

If all you are ever willing to do is that which your peers are willing to do, you are by definition mediocre. Mediocrity is safe, comfortable, and certain. It is also a recipe for nothing more than competitive parity. You don’t have to pursue mediocrity, it will pursue you, and if you are like most of the people you have surrounded yourself with, it has already caught you.

If you want to lead a life of excellence, you have to give yourself permission to do what your peers are not willing to do. That includes how you practice personal branding in social media.

Ignore that fact that your friends do not blog and tweet. Disregard the bad advice that Facebook is a sandbox for you and your friends to frolic and “express” yourselves publicly.

We live in the most competitive days I’ve ever seen in my life. That means there is tremendous opportunity for those willing to work smarter and harder than everyone else. Focus on your value and do the things you know you need to be done in order to create a remarkable brand.

If people are not spreading the word about what you can do uniquely well to create value for others, then you are unremarkable. Rise above the mediocrity of the masses and do the things that give people a reason to recommend you and your brand.


Bret Simmons is an Assistant Professor of Management in the College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), where he teaches courses in organizational behavior, leadership, and personal branding to both undergraduate and MBA students. He has a Ph.D. in Business Administration from Oklahoma State University. Bret practices personal branding at his website Positive Organizational Behavior where he blogs about leadership, followership, and personal branding. His purpose is “to change your mind about the value of partnering with others to build healthy, responsible organizations where everyone can thrive.” You can also find Bret on TwitterFacebook, and Linkedin.

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7 Responses to “Mediocrity Sucks”

  1. [...] “Mediocrity Sucks” is the title of my most recent post at The Student Branding Blog. I first started telling my students this over 11 years ago. It was part of my value added “two cents worth” I gave them on the last day of class. I learned this in my 18 years of organizational life, not in academia. [...]

  2. avatar Paul Kiser says:

    Dr. Bret: You’re preaching to the choir boy on this topic.

  3. avatar Bret Simmons says:

    Thanks for the link to your blog, Paul. Loved it! Bret

  4. Dr.;

    Very well said. The most difficult thing an owner of a business or leader of people will ever face is how to break through to an organization stuck in mediocracy.

    As a Store Manager tasked with dealing with 100′s of minimum wage earners it was an exceptionally trying task but one that with enough fortitude could be overcome through personal contact. When a leader shows a genuine interest in a Manager or Employee’s goals, growth, and future; that person will give you 100%. Over the years it was apparent that most employees worked at a level equal to their peers. By changing the behavior of a few you could change the behavior of many.

    Mediocrity is a symptom that as a leader you have not connected to your team. More importantly it may demonstrate that you are Managing tasks vs. leading people. The results derived from the two options are monumentally different.

    Loved the article.

    • avatar Bret Simmons says:

      Welcome, Larry! You are SO correct that mediocrity being a symptom of poor leadership. I love that self-accountability. But even if you have a crappy leader, every individual needs to hold him or herself accountable for rising above mediocrity. And just because you are young and working minimum wage does not mean you are by default mediocre. When I was 16-18, I was working my butt off and was an impressive employee. But as you point out, I was lucky to have been exposed to some good managers early in my work life. Thanks for sharing, Larry! Bret

  5. avatar Bruce Lynn says:

    My hero for railing against the tide of mediocrity is Hugh MacLeod –

  6. avatar Brian says:

    I definately had that quest for excellence in college and indeed defeated mediocrity. After a few years/jobs in the corporate world, I let a few things discourage me and, indeed, mediocrity found me.

    Worse, I let it set up residence in my self-image…and suffered from it for years. Mediocrity does sound like a cushy lifestyle, but really it goes against the grain of human nature. Thus, you end up suffering from it…especially when you try to escape it. It feels like quicksand. When you pull up your feet, a vacuum is formed and you can barely move them. Basically, the more you struggle, the quicker you drown.

    I’m currently attempting an approach similar to how to get out of quicksand. You don’t just walk out of quicksand like you walked into it (although many try). You should bend over, putting your face close the quicksand. From that angle, you can slowly pull yourself up and across…crawling on your belly.

    Likewise, I will put my face in the muck of my mediocrity (to remember that it is there! It is so easy to forget!) and slowly, deliberately replace my old self-image and habits with better ones.

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