May 17 , 2018 /


I read a piece recently touting the achievements of the top performers in a given field.  At this point I can’t remember if it was the top 10, 20 or 100 and that doesn’t’ matter.  It started me thinking, an often dangerous and subversive activity.  My friends call it disruptive and that fits too.  Here is where it led me.

I recall a meeting where we talked about dismissing someone because according to his supervisors his performance had been at the bottom for the entire year. I listened to the argument and the discussion and then I said, “Do you realize that as soon as you remove him, someone will be waiting next in line to take his place as long as you rank people top to bottom?”   Silence followed.

I’m all for recognizing and celebrating success and accomplishments, achieving goals or even exceeding them.  I’m fine with motivating people with the promise of rewards for a job well done.  I have participated in giving out awards to the select few who worked hard, delivered great results, contributed significantly and were judged to be worthy of such recognition.  Then I wondered about all of those others who were not recognized publicly but who did what they could, sometimes under trying circumstances.  While they did not rise to the top were they not also worthy of recognition?  How do we resolve that issue?

You have seen the posts that start out with “The Top 10 Reasons” or “The Top 100 Thought Leaders” or how about this?  “140,234 top ten lists for everything under (& including) the sun.”

We are conditioned to focus on the top and we look for reviews that describe the best of this or that whether accommodations, restaurants, or products and services.  I find it amusing to see pictures and descriptions in an airline magazine that features the top physicians in a given specialty. Who is ranking them?  Newsweek magazine’s rankings of high schools and colleges may be well-intended but really misses the mark.

U.S. Health Care is ranked the worst in the developed world and yet, when you need health care and you live here, you’ re unlikely, in most cases, to go to another country.   I guess the point in all of this is to take rankings with a suspicious mind set and wonder why and how did these come to be?    It’s perfectly OK to want the best, to want to be the best.  No one I know seeks to be the worst of anything nor the least.   Few accept mediocrity.  We urge one another on to do good work, to be the best we can be and to show up in the best ways that we can.  We applaud good performance and the awards are proof that it was the best song, the best movie, the best book, the best whatever. And by vote of the academy, the millions upon millions of diplomas and degrees being conferred this month and next certify the success and achievement of the graduates.

My congratulations go to all of those who are not being recognized but who go about their work and get the jobs done that need doing.  They are legions of teachers, professors, and technicians; parents, mentors and colleagues; laborers in the trades and people in businesses large and small; unsung and unheralded.  Let’s hear it for the people who mow the grass and haul the garbage.

These people work every day to make a contribution to the common wealth of communities and country and they support each other and their families in the best ways that they know.   Let’s have a ceremony or awards show for them and we’ll call it the Annual Awards for the Anonymous.  I have several candidates in mind and I’m sure you do too.

Comments (6)

  1. Love this, Gary. Years ago I worked for a company that laddered employees on a bell curve. Meetings could go on for eight hours. There was debate and argument over the top (which was usually less than five people) and the bottom (same number). We barely heard about everyone in the middle and most of them automatically got the same raise. There was no debate about the contributions of the middle or the value. I knew most of them and let me tell you, their stories mattered too. Now that same company no longer does performance laddering. Not sure if that means they’ve changed their view of the middle but without them, they wouldn’t be a company.

    I used to be bothered when I saw people on lists of the smartest most amazing people in a field and not others who I knew were among the best. I’m learning that a list is not what proves your value… that’s up to you.

    Thanks for getting me thinking, Gary!


  2. Isn’t the ‘truth’ usually somewhere “in the middle”?

    and, as a “middle child” myself, you can’t imagine how much I relate to your post 😉 🙂

  3. Very interesting. Without the middle there would be no connection between the other two parts. I resist calling them top and bottom as I tend to resist hierarchies in general. How about instead of middle, we call it the vital center? That would fit you, from my knowing you, Thanks for all that you do and for all that you share with so many others,

  4. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Gary. Typically, unsung heroes don’t get their deserved credit because they live in the shadow of an individual. They don’t jockey for the glory, ask for the raise, or request the promotion because they’re just busy getting their job done. In fact, they come to work day in and day out, keeping their nose to the grindstone and helping the organization win –– and in the process, they often make other people look good.

    1. Thanks, Frank. I’m not sure it’s wisdom, merely a long career, some great experiences, terrific colleagues and wonderful opportunities. If those ingredients contribute to any so-called wisdom, so much the better. I know this much. I am enormously grateful for where I’ve been, what I’ve done and for all of those who helped me along the way. That I am able to continue what I’m doing now is an added bonus I never expected. So, time to celebrate and remember this weekend, and beyond. Cheers, Gary

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