“I need to warn you, Mary has really high standards.” You hear this kind of comment all the time in the workplace. But what does it mean, really? Is Mary some impossible-to-please overly demanding ogre? A detail-obsessed punctillious, nitpicking micromanager? Often the person issuing the “warning” secretly thinks so – Mary’s behavior is a mystery to them.

More often, in my experience, those “unrealistically high standards” are completely warranted – and absolutely necessary in order to achieve some kind of business imperative. Do demanding managers cause employee turnover? Far from it. 

Here’s a fact that may surprise you:

Top performers are powerfully attracted to managers who know what they want to achieve – managers who hold people accountable to high performance standards.

Demanding managers make you bring your “A” game to work every day. They don’t tolerate “dead wood” – so they often have great people on their teams. They quickly recognize good work.  And they often get things done in record time. Top performers are very comfortable with clear expectations, and like accountability – they want to keep score. They also recognize the fact that  that working for demanding managers is great for their career.

Often the manager with high standards is someone who sets very high expectations for their own personal performance, and is unwilling to accept mediocre performance from people around them. Maybe the manager with “high standards” simply outworked everyone around them in order to achieve their  professional success, and made quite a few personal sacrifices along the way. They cannot imagine working any other way, and simply cannot work well with people who have different values.

Maybe the manager with “high standards” knows exactly what is at stake, and what the true cost of errors or failure on the project would be – they are willing to be really demanding in order to achieve a worthy goal. (When you are an engineer working on the moon launch, you want to be sure you did your math correctly).

In my experience, the manager with high standards is rarely an unrealistic, self centered, egotistical jerk. Far more often the person judging them is simply unaware why such high standards are so important.


To gain more perspective on performance management and employee turnover, visit “What Drives Employee Retention and Employee Turnover?”