The Simple Path to Extraordinary Excellence
Many talk about excellence because it’s the thing to do. Others dance on the high edge of average unwilling to take the leap.
Excellence shimmers like a mirage teasing in the distance. Good is acceptable because excellence frustrates.
The pursuit of excellence means
today’s best is tomorrow’s average.
Can you live with that?
One simple path:
Excellence is a path not a destination.
Average is safe because it’s known and attainable.
Excellence lays one step beyond your best.
Make plans. Determine goals and objectives. But, just before ending the meeting ask, “How could we take this to the next level?”
Eyes light up when teams develop good ideas and someone asks, “How can we do better?”
Excellence is incremental.
- Toss theories and excuses. Any fool can explain why something can’t be done. Wisdom finds practical expressions of better.
- Don’t settle on first answers or suggestions. Keep asking.
- Invite others in. Customers, front-line workers, new employees, and other departments poke at the stale status quo.
- Persist. Excellence is a function of persistence. Keep trying even though results disappointed the first time.
- Change methods as you pursue.
How can leaders pursue excellence?
What qualities strengthen a leader’s ability to pursue excellence?
I’ll often ask a client or team to imagine a “perfect” outcome for our project. I know, we don’t like the word “perfect” because it invokes perfectionism and we don’t like that. But, we can seek “perfect” in our imaginations and translate that to an achievable goal. The word “perfect” seems to bring out new ideas about what could be possible that are different than where we are. There’s usually an idea for change in there that can move us toward excellence.
Thanks Glen… I like the word “perfect” in your contribution. I love the word “imagine!” Great add.
An outstanding blog, Dan.
“Persist. Excellence is a function of persistence”. That is a powerful statement. Malcom Gladwell’s book “Outliers” makes the point that about 10,000 hours of practice is required to master something. Those who “get by”, “don’t rock the boat” miss out on the fun of being really good at something, and are ill-equipped to help others flourish.
The following link shows the principle in graphical form.
I also like your “Excellence is a path, not a destination”. Even the best musicians keep practicing, never satisfied with today’s excellence fearing entropy and relishing the challenge of doing better.
One thing to reflect on. The pursuit of true excellence is far more than Tom Peters’ book. Life is short, very short. 10,000 hours is a large fraction of our lives. Pursuit of futile things is futile. Excellence for personal glory is but a passing breeze. A well-lived life is purpose-driven. It is the pursuit of things that are worthwhile.
Your comment challenges me Marc. Thank you.
Musicians and athletes are powerful illustrations of persistence in the pursuit of excellence. As I type this I think about the value of goals that are just out of reach as an aid too.
Thanks for adding value.
I think the biggest part about pursuing excellence is the intention of excellence. Then, ask other people what they think. Perfection is an absolute, excellence is an opinion.
Thanks Todd. For me, being intentional about excellence is entering a meeting knowing I’m going to work with everyone to develop a good plan and then asking, “How can we take this to a new place?” When it’s done right, it invigorates. Done poorly it insults the work that’s already been done.
So glad to see you regularly share your insights.
Great topic Dan, as I reflect over my life and my experiences understanding I can’t accomplish great things alone. Flashes of brilliance(humility exemplified, right) YES but long standing diffference making, not so sure and one of the most dificult things to do ever.
I have read a lot of the books, listended to a whole lot of tapes, guess now cd’s and got fired up and started charging towards my goal.
The most difficult thing for me so far is getting others interested, involved and committed! I am a recovering person and in the AA Book my favorite part is page 62. Had a lot of coincidences associated with that number.
Part of it says basically we are selfish and driven by a 100 forms of fear, selfishness, self-centeredness. We try to arrange the world and its players and everyone would be happy if they would just do as I think they should. Silly wabbits they rarely if ever do!
So wonder if you Dan, or any of you reading this have ever come to a point that has challenged every fiber of your being when you are full bore committed to attaining a goal. Then you start to realize I cannot do this alone but no one else seems to be as excited about this as me?
I am thinking really great leaders are those who find the way to have others get interested, involved and committed in what they are attempting to accomplish and where they are going. Anyone else ever find themselves in this position?
My experience has basically been when it is all said and done what most people do is just enough not to get fired and they get paid just enough not to quit. That is the definition of a job, just over broke, right? How do leaders get these folks to passionately join them?
One of the great mysteries of my life. Any suggestions will be deeply appreciated and thoughtfully pondered!
Sadly, your statement “what most people do is just enough not to get fired and they get paid just enough not to quit” happens quite often.
The subject of motivating people to a common cause has filled many books. The basics are simple. People do their best when what they do has meaning to them. Washing dishes in a restaurant may be demeaning to a high school dropout who goes to work every day hating his/her life. The same job may be wonderful for a recently immigrated lawyer fleeing a totalitarian regime and restarting his life in a new country where he and his wife can rear their children in freedom. (I use this example, because a friend of mine was this refugee).
As leaders, we need to
1) Understand why we are leading. The only valid reason to be a leader is that the organization can do better with us there, and that we are the best person for the position at the moment. Leadership must be concentrated on the advancement of the organization’s goals. If we don’t believe in them, we should not be leading. Be a model person as well as a model employee. Don’t ask people to work harder than you. Don’t flaunt perks – in fact ask yourself why you should have them. Admit failures, and ask forgiveness. Become an expert. Persist and never give up. Pray.
2) Know who we’re leading. Understand what gives them meaning. Listen. Find a way of relating the job to what gives them meaning – without manipulating. This may require job redesign so people can see the results of their work. Address shortcomings quickly. Coach and mentor. Encourage often. Almost never scold. Fire one or several people if required, no matter what the short-term cost, if it will better serve the organization. When you fire, don’t get angry, but firmly and fairly separate them from the organization.
Hi Marc, the tough part for me is when it is time to admit I am leading only myself? LOL Does anyone remember laughter? They say insanity is trying the same things over and over again expecting the result to be different. Does that mean it is genius when you know when to stop? When does a person realize what they are doing might be for their own personal aspirations, not for the good of anyone but themselves?
The other thing I thought about was a Dude who is so motivated, like a guy who starts out as a cook and then ends up owning the company one day sort of thing. See some lucky fella got to be that guys boss for awhile, not the other way around. You think the Boss dude looked at it this way or you think he thought everything that guy did was because of his most awesome leadership skills?
I think when you got a Rockstar in da house just get out of his way and let him make you look good. I am still waiting around to work with, for, against….anyone who seems to want things more than me.
I am not sure any type of Leadership skills beat out just pure dumb luck sometimes. Remember Jack Welch said, the team that wins is the one who has the best players. Now I am a HUGE Carolina basketbasll fan and think the world of Dean Smith, but seriously a monkey could have coached Michael Jordan! Ya feelin me?
Well back to work!
I appreciate the statement- excellence is the path, not the destination. Path of excellence is never complete. It is never satisfying too, but it provides a sense of achievement, fulfillment and honor. I believe that excellence comes through passion, not by compulsion. And leaders need to have passion to pursue excellence. There is no yardstick to excellence but today’s excellence becomes yardstick for tomorrow excellence.And hence leaders without passion can not pursue excellence. And the most powerful quality that leaders should have to pursue excellence is “belief”. Leader should have unbending believe in self ability and determination. I strongly believe that we are what we think we are.Therefore, it is necessary to think big, strong belief and passionate will.
If you have attained excellence—note that occurred in the past tense and as Dan noted, was the current state of best, not future.
If you are doing really excellent work, you may not know it (but you feel it) until others ask you questions, ‘how did you do that?’, ‘why aren’t others doing what you are doing?’ or ‘can we come watch what you do?’ Now, while what you are doing is excellent, it likely is not the most excellent (thanks Bill & Ted) and certainly not perfect as Glenn pointed out.
If you want to continue pursuit of excellence, that implies action, so rather resting on your laurels, look to your laurels for what else you can do. How? Ask. Ask those most directly connected from your service to the customer. Ask the customer (you will hear more than anticipated.) Once you have begun asking, ask again and again. AND, ask how you can help make those answers happen. Ask what resources are needed, what perspectives are needed, what time is needed to make those things happen.
While you cannot guarantee any of those elements, then you know what is needed. If you can guarantee some of those resources, point out they identified it and they will know if it is making a difference, so ask, who wants to lead the way for this part of the journey. (Again point out that you are are there to help make it happen, not necessarily lead it.) Likely, if you have momentum, you have also been able to read/see potential leaders and may want to have side conversations with them to mentor/encourage them.
It’s an amazing journey when you get the opportunity to dance near excellence. Camelot moments. Savor them deeply.
My pleasure. You are writing amazing content. I wish I found you sooner. (Looking forward to the writing class by the way.)
Great post, Dan. “Good is acceptable because excellence frustrates.” – I love this. It is so true, and that’s why your 4th tip is so critical to success. It is incredibly easy to lose drive or become frustrated when the results you expect come up short, and that’s why persistence is key. I also think that patience mixed with some realistic expectations helps a lot. If you can patiently persist through tough situations, times of excellence will follow. Thanks!
Is it Ok to use your column in a company newsletter as long as it’s correctly attributed to you and your site referenced?
Most certainly. Thanks for checking.
Thank you for this Dan. I often think of one my favorite quotes which is from Jesse Jackson…”Excellence is the best deterrant to racism.” I love that, but I take it much further and say excellence is the best deterrant to many things which halt progress or move us from our goals and dreams. There is NO downside to excellence…and you never know who is watching and learning from your lead. Thanks again for another lift for the day, and a reminder to reach a little farther each and every time.