4 Ways to Shut Down Mediocrity in your Small Business

blog Mar 28, 2023

“Beware the lollipop of mediocrity. Lick it once and you’ll suck forever.”

Brian Wilson, founding member of The Beach Boys

This quote is GOLD.

And so fucking true!

Have you ever watched The Weakest Link television game show?

Contestants answer a series of questions, then vote to remove the lowest-performing person. 

Each round concludes with the show’s host coldly proclaiming: “You are the weakest link. Goodbye!”

I couldn’t watch the show and maybe that's why it finished twelve months ago in Australia, as I was not the only one?

However, it did get me thinking about using the approach for business.

So, who or what are the weakest links in your business?

In sport, there is the saying of ‘you are only as good as your weakest link’, which also applies in business.

But how do you identify a weak link, acknowledge the problem, and / or make the decision to remove someone from your small business? 

If you don't, you end up accepting mediocrity because:

  • you’re busy
  • people are hard to find and hire
  • you’re unwilling to accept a hard truth
  • you’re emotionally entangled with some of your people, or
  • let’s be brutally honest - you’re overly dependent on some of your worst offenders. 

So you tolerate the weak links.

Sound familiar?

If it does, it is time to stop accepting this bullshit, as tolerating mediocrity has devastating effects on your small business over time. 

You lose your ‘A-Players’. 

It poisons work environments. 

It damages customer relationships and loyalty. 

It burns out managers. 

It slows (or kills) growth.

I am always coaching businesses about getting the Right People in the Right Seats (RPRS).

But how do you know when you have the wrong person in your business, or perhaps the right person, but in the wrong seat?

Understanding what you tolerate and accept as a leader helps answer those questions. 

Provided you are open to hearing and acting on the message. 

Here are the four areas where you’re most likely allowing mediocrity to take root in your business.


Although there are numerous behaviours I have seen leaders tolerate that contribute to mediocrity, the most common is an unwillingness or inability to live their businesses core values.

What about the high performer who’s a cultural misfit!

I call these people Toxic High Performers, who cause shit storms regularly in the business. 

Many times, I have seen a top salesperson in a client’s business, who doesn’t show up to meetings on time, never has their paperwork in order, or acts like a ‘diva’ in front of their team. 

Maybe it is an experienced team member who refuses to share their expansive knowledge of your products, services and systems with other team members. 

But guess what happens….because these team members are highly productive, many leaders or managers tolerate the inappropriate behaviours and turn a blind eye. 

Yes, they’re top performers, but they’re clearly not a cultural fit. 

And more often than not, it’s obvious to everyone!

This includes what you do, what you say, what you don’t do, what you don’t say and what you tolerate both in yourself and in others. 

When the rest of your team realises you have double standards (and they will!), they become resentful. 

This is why, over time, retaining low culture fit team members, even if they’re high performers, destroys culture and productivity. 

It might be short term wins, but long term disasters!

Another behaviour I see leaders tolerate in themselves and in others is rewarding heroic actions. 

For example, celebrating when an employee pulls an all-nighter to submit a client proposal on time or when someone on vacation spends 3 to 4 hours solving a problem for one of your clients.

Acts of workplace heroics are HORRIBLE to reinforce. 

Although legitimately warranted at times, particularly in small, high-growth businesses, heroics are neither sustainable or scalable. 

Rather, successful, scalable businesses operate predictably on a sustainable basis over time. 

If your business model requires heroics, fix it and fix it now.

Non-learning is the final behaviour often tolerated by leaders. 

Non-learners are the people on your team who won’t, can’t or refuse to learn, grow, or improve. 

These team members aren’t willing to hear feedback and don’t respond to coaching, so they stagnate as others and your business grow around them. 

Think of the message this tolerance sends to the learners and high performers in your business! 

Fear causes leaders to tolerate undesirable and unsustainable behaviours. 

If a top producer is the problem, who’s going to make up that revenue?

What about the business knowledge that you’ll lose if you terminate them? 

You also might be emotionally entangled and you think “I can’t let them go. We’re friends!”

When faced with these situations, it’s helpful to focus on the effect of your decisions on the rest of the team and business. 

I’ve observed countless small business owners over the last 35 years who focus relentlessly on the “problems”, the 5% of their team who need to be “fixed.” 

They expend significant time and energy on a small number of their team while ignoring the impact on the majority! 

When you take the perspective of the majority, you’ll find it easier to stop tolerating certain behaviours and make the right moves to strengthen your team.

Without fail, 100% of the time, whenever I’ve had a client finally bite the bullet and move on a behavioural misfit, they come back to me after the fact and say: “I should have done this six months ago.”

Then, I reply: “You’re being too kind to yourself. You should have done this a year ago.”

Please ask yourself these questions (honestly!): 

  • Is each member of your team a solid cultural fit, willing to learn and grow?
  • Would you enthusiastically re-hire them if they left?
  • Do we celebrate and reward heroic behaviour?
  • Am I focused on the opportunities for the 95%, instead of the problems of the 5%?

If you answered NO to any of the above, you must make changes and NOW.


There are two areas where leaders commonly accept results based mediocrity.

Team members who do not achieve required outcomes and / or with low accountability.

Your people who miss the mark are the opposite of what we discussed regarding behaviours.

They’re a great cultural fit, but don’t achieve their objectives.

Although these people might be non-learners (which makes them the wrong fit for your small business), occasionally, when a low performer is a high cultural fit, it might be a case of “right person, wrong seat” as Jim Collins would say.

In these instances, a role change might be the fix that’s needed.

With the best possible intentions, leaders often put people in roles that are not suited to their abilities and strengths.

I see this where people are promoted to a manager role, because they are good technically and have been there a fair amount of time.

Typically, a sales manager has been promoted because they are good at selling and they have been the ‘next in line’.

More often than not, they are set up to fail as they have never been trained or coached to be a manager.

And, they typically hate the role and often leave.

What a clusterfuck!

It’s important to look for this when someone underperforms, particularly if they’ve been a valuable team member in the past and are a good cultural fit. 

Regardless of the cause, you cannot tolerate underperformance from your team. 

The lowest performer in any group sets the bar for what’s “acceptable.” 

This causes high performers to look elsewhere for a challenge and encourages others to aim lower in their work.

Leaders who accept a low level of accountability also allow mediocrity to creep into the business. 

Non-accountable people tend to point fingers and blame others, withhold information, obscure the truth or even communicate infrequently. 

High accountability, on the other hand, includes frequent and detailed communication, personal ownership of outcomes, proactively identifying potential risks and asking for help. 

Raise expectations of your team regarding accountable behaviours to counteract the creep of mediocrity associated with low accountability.

As a small business owner, you are ultimately accountable for the results your team produces. 

Tolerating low performers and non-accountable behaviours make YOU a low performing leader if you refuse to do something about it.

And it is costing you a shit load!

Please ask yourself these questions (honestly!):

  • Do I hold my team accountable for meeting their objectives?
  • If they’re a cultural fit but a low performer, are they in the right seat?
  • Do I accept finger pointing or generalities about projects and results?

If you answered NO to any of the above, you must make changes and NOW.


There are two areas where leaders commonly accept relationship based mediocrity.

Tolerating “takers” at the expense of “givers” and fostering co-dependency rather than growing independent team members.

Healthy, positive relationships in your business are key to maintaining a high performance culture. 

But it’s surprisingly easy to become so wrapped up in the ‘whirlwind’ of running the business that your team’s relationships, those with you and with each other, don’t get the attention they deserve. 

One way or another, mediocrity soon follows.

An example of an unhealthy relationship behaviour is tolerating, or worse, encouraging team members who are takers rather than givers. 

Organisational psychologist Adam Grant writes that people decide how much to give to their teammates, daily.

In assistance, in knowledge, in networking connections and more. 

But in a competitive workplace, they’re often tempted to be takers, “trying to get others to serve their ends while carefully guarding their own expertise and time.”

Givers are the foundation of a successful, growing business. 

They adopt the ‘reciprocity’ principle.

But if you foster an environment that rewards takers, even unintentionally through individual performance metrics and bonus structures, team members will feel pitted against one another and can adopt a “not my job” mentality. 

Encourage and reward ‘giving’ behaviours as an integral part of your firm’s culture.

Talk about it regularly by praising those that give.

Failing to cultivate self reliance in your team is another common source of relationship based mediocrity. 

Imagine how great it would be if your people were more independent, more proactive and did the “right things” more often, without needing much guidance. 

Yet, it’s easy to elicit the exact opposite behaviours from people by telling them what to do! 

Although running a small business and doing a shit load of tasks can feel good in the short-term, over time, your team’s reliance on you will grow while their capacity to perform independently won’t.

And guess what happens as well? Growing your business becomes bloody hard!

It will take more time and energy to empower your people than it does to tell them what to do. 

But the returns are massive when you resist the urge to give instructions, challenge your people to think independently and encourage them to become more self-reliant. 

They actually want this as well.

You’ll be able to get out of the ‘weeds’ and lead more strategically because you’ll have a more capable, independent and reliable team.

Finally, it’s important to periodically evaluate your own professional relationships to ensure you’re not the “most expensive house in the street.” 

I use this analogy as no doubt you have heard the saying “don’t ever buy the most expensive house in the street”. 

There’s only one way the value of that home can be affected by the other homes around it, and that’s down.

If you have more experience (and value) than the members of your circle of influence, your continued affiliation with them will cause your professional value to decrease (move toward mediocrity) over time. 

This is why it’s critical to deliberately surround yourself with people who are more accomplished than you, who make you a little (or a lot!) uncomfortable by challenging you. 

By taking this approach, your capabilities and value will continually increase over time.

Please ask yourself these questions (honestly!): 

  • Do I foster an environment that encourages more giving or taking?
  • Do I cultivate self reliance, or do I run a team by doing too much yourself?
  • Where do I stand in my professional neighbourhood?

If you answered NO to any of the above, you must make changes and NOW.


Once you’ve evaluated the behaviours, results and relationships within your growing small business, it’s time to focus on your own performance and results. 

As a leader, what you say and what you do are invisibly, but constantly observed, scrutinised, and evaluated by every member of your team. 

People consciously and unconsciously take behaviour cues from their leaders. 

In other words, they model their actions, words, and tolerances after YOU. 

Therefore, if you accept mediocrity in yourself, you’ll unknowingly send the message to your team that it’s okay for them to be the same.

You must lead by example to create the impetus for others to follow. 

This includes what you SAY, what you DO and what you TOLERATE in yourself. 

Do you embody your Core Values and consistently talk about them with your team? 

Do you hold yourself accountable for meeting your objectives? 

Are you transparent about communicating with your team? 

Are you a giver or a taker?

Your answers to these questions, the reality of your own day-to-day behaviours, is where you’ve set the bar for your team. 

‘Do as I say, not as I do’ won’t cut it.

Please ask yourself this question (honestly!):

  • What am I tolerating in myself that I wouldn’t, or shouldn’t tolerate in anyone else?


Mediocrity is a dangerous weed that must be plucked before it chokes your business. 

As you grow your small business, stay grounded in the reality that you are both the chokepoint AND the solution to creating the team, the culture and the results you desire.

Although there are plenty of excuses for accepting mediocrity, all of them yield the same results.

Take the lead from The Weakest Link and be merciless in showing mediocrity the door!

If you answered NO to some of these questions, join our ‘Business Transformation Program’ waitlist.