If you are embarking on a search for excellence in yourself or in your organization, that which you seek may be closer than you think. And yet, the notion of excellence is still elusive. One can easily be deceived by the fool’s gold called average which is bright, shiny and can resemble excellence but which holds little if any pertinent or sustainable value in the true currency of our personal and professional lives.
This article is a wakeup call to giving and being your best which begins with an understanding of what best (excellence) truly is. There is no teacher’s curve when it comes to excellence. Excellence is not how you are measured against others but rather how you measure up against your potential. Imagine you have entered a race. You are on the track and poised to begin. The gun goes off and you bolt from your position and begin your run. You are focused! Finally, you look up and then back. There are no runners in front, beside or behind you. You look to the stadium and there is no one there cheering you on. This race is yours and your only competitor is your personal best. This epiphany is the essence of excellence.
Now don’t get us wrong. Every relationship, personal or professional, has requisite standards. Job descriptions have “essential functions of the job.” A marriage vow has the one big “I do” followed by a number of smaller “I do’s” and “I don’ts,” tacit expectations of behavior from one another to fulfill the contract. These are the basic assumptions of the social and work compacts we participate in but they are just that…basic, core covenants that form the construct in which we live and operate. To remain in this mindset is an agreement to live and operate in the land of average where “getting by on the minimal’ is good enough. In contrast, a commitment to excellence is a commitment to evaluate your current environment, circumstances, challenges, issues, opportunities and contracts and to rise above the basal foundation, to perform and behave in a manner that reflects your best.
So how do you make this practical? How can you make this real in your everyday life? In Who Kidnapped Excellence? What Stops Us From Giving and Being Our Best, we assert there are five core qualities which, when consistently performed effectively, represent excellence. They are:
Let’s use the essential functions of the job and the marriage vows as examples to contrast average and excellence. The first step is to be very deliberate in differentiating average and excellence. All too often, we allow what once reflected the performance expectations of true excellence to slip. Circumstances, challenges or decisions prevent us from being consistent in our behavior or performance and, over time, we lower the bar on the definition of excellence. This can happen almost subconsciously as we rationalize losses, defeats or subpar performance. So step number one is to raise the bar back to the high level befitting the title of excellence. Be real with yourself. Call it what it is. Do not allow anything to dilute the vision of your highest level of potential!
Passion is a primary building block for excellence. When we speak of passion, we do not refer to the contrived emotion evoked by the coach at half-time when his team is all but defeated. We assert that passion is a daily choice in our attitude. Passion creates that zest inside us for life that causes us to smile even when circumstances are against us, to go that extra mile, and to see our life and work as an opportunity, not something we have to get through.
Passion, then, is less of an emotion and more of a choice. For the employee, it might be the choice to see past the shortcomings of a colleague and rather than isolate herself from him, she maintains a positive attitude and even helps him improve in his work. For the spouse, it is the decision to demonstrate love even when he is tired.
Who among us does not desire to be good at what they do - their work, their role as a spouse, a father, or mother? We often relate competency to the technical skills required to do the job. For instance, if you are a construction manager, reading blueprints is likely a required skill. But competency is not just the technical aspects of our work and lives but also in our relationships with one another. The construction worker who is great at reading blueprints, but lacks the interpersonal skills to be able to relate well with his employees and customers does not surpass the category of average. Suppose the tacit agreement between a couple is that the man take the role of provider for the family. He does so with fervor and spends an inordinate amount of time and energy to become a good financial provider. On the surface, this seems in order. The problem, however, is he ignored a great deal of the emotional needs of his wife along the way, another ‘competency’ implicit to the spousal contract.
The only thing that remains constant is that everything changes. We are not the same people, per se, as we were when we took our vows. We get hired and things are going along well and then, boom, the reorganization announcement. What the average person does is try to hang on to the past, to wait it out, to expect it to go away. But those in the excellence category understand that change happens and they look for positive, practical and professional ways to adapt to the changes. The husband who ‘gets it’ that the new baby resets the expectations of spousal agreement is moving away from average and toward excellence. In contrast, the worker who resists changes and hangs on to the philosophy of “that’s not the way we do things around here” may find himself not only in the land of average but also in the land of the unemployed.
Perception is everything, and perception is primarily created by communication. Those who understand that there is a delicate balance between listening and talking and that listening is more than just paying attention to the words are on a path to excellence. You may remember the model of sender, receiver and feedback loop in your studies of communication. All too often we do not pay adequate attention to the feedback loop. We fail to validate the message we thought we sent or that was sent to us. There is a definitive art to this practice and those who master it are the ones who learn to “read between the lines.” The spouse who listens with his head and heart, who reads the subtleties of the body language, who integrates his previous knowledge and history with his wife and who, without parroting, is able to validate the meaning of his wife’s communication, will leave average in the dust. The manager, however, who is too busy “managing” and does not take the time to listen to the feedback of his staff or even if he does listen, does not or cannot discern the real meaning they are trying to convey, this manager is destined for average purgatory.
Who among us has washed a rental car? OK, there are a few of you. Please seek therapy. But most of us have not. It is not part of the expectation. We are more likely to take care of the things we own. I can go into work with an attitude of just meeting the basic expectations of the job and I may, in fact, be able to fly under the radar screen. Or I can come to work with a perspective of how I would work and operate if I owned the company, my department, my specific work. That is a perspective of excellence. Suppose it is 5:05 PM and the shop closed at 5:00 PM and a customer is knocking on the glass door. Those with an average mindset will mouth “we’re closed” and turn their backs. Those with an excellence (ownership) mindset will open the door and say, “how may I help you?” In a marriage, those with an excellence perspective take ownership of problems, issues and challenges. They do not point fingers and pass blame.
It’s Your Turn
Take an honest assessment of your personal and professional life. Have you settled, compromised, given up or given in? Has the fool’s gold of average distracted you from true excellence? We have asserted that the core elements of excellence are passion, competency, flexibility, communication and ownership. We go one step further. We contend that you must demonstrate all five of these core qualities consistently to claim the title of excellence. We do not pretend we have the magic formula that will bring you happiness and an improved life. But imagine if you will, working for a boss who strives to come to work every day with a positive mindset, who is very good technically at what she does and she has great interpersonal skills. She consistently demonstrates flexibility in an ever-changing work environment. Her communication skills are second to none. She does not pass the buck. She takes ownership of her departments issues and does not pass blame. Imagine that your significant other greets each day with a smile and with kindness toward you. He/she has taken his/her role seriously in the relationship. You experience flexibility, great communication and an ownership mentality with them consistently.
Now look in the mirror and envision those qualities in yourself. Be realistic about where the bar is in your current life and raise it. It must happen in your mind before it happens in your day to day life. Seek out the right mentors, experiences, courses, coworkers and friends who can help you on your journey to giving and being your best every day.
L&MB Magazine 6 - Q2, 2016
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