In my workshops I help attendees build a profile of a high performance culture. In one exercise I give a list of definitions for culture-building words like earn and deserve, and compare them to definitions of culturally-destructive words like entitlement and blame. The objective is to crystalize their thinking about what a high performance culture looks like and how it operates. One essential component of a high performance culture I refer to throughout the seminar is excellence. Excellence is far more than a word, it is a mindset, a state and a way of life. Excellence is defined by the dictionary as: superior, eminent, distinguished. You cannot claim excellence simply because you are number one in your region, or routinely beat your competitor down the street. Frankly, excellence is more than being better than someone else; the truest measure of excellence is that you consistently become superior, more eminent and distinguished than you used to be, as a leader and as an organization. The following questions offer a few of the possible benchmarks that help determine growth towards excellence in both your personal and work life:
- Are you more disciplined and emotionally mature today throughout your daily routine than you were last month this time?
- Is control of your attitude and your character choices, better now than when the year began?
- Have you honed your leadership skills, people skills and the knowledge of your business to the point that peers notice and strive to match your example?
- Are you a better time manager and steward of personal and corporate resources than in the past?
- Is your leadership more clear and inspiring to followers in 2012 than in 2011?
- Are you more fulfilled, secure and self-confident now than you were last year this time?
- Have you read more serious books in the past twelve months than in the year before?
- Is your life in greater balance than it was last quarter?
- Have you become more consistent, focused and tough minded as you pursue your daily agenda?
- Has it become easier for you to “no” to the wrong things, opportunities and people?
- Has the quality of your relationships at work strengthened, and has your leadership influence expanded beyond your immediate areas of responsibilities?
- Do you make fewer excuses and accept more personal responsibility than you once did?
- Is your team better than they used to be in the critical success areas related to their jobs?
- When customers do business with you, do they see and sense excellence throughout the transaction? In your peoples’ attitude, character, competence, dress and grooming? In the way their phone call is handled or their problems are resolved?
- Do customers encounter excellence when they pull on to your service drive, when they visit your restroom, when they drive by and notice how the lot was left after you closed?
Excellence is a journey that requires constant attention and sacrifice. Rest assured that not you, nor your organization, will just stroll to the top of Mt. Excellence unopposed. The journey to become excellent is littered with potholes and detours like comfort zones, time wasters, excuses, blame games, complacency, low or no standards, and the wrong people. (As formidable as these obstacles are, the greatest roadblock to excellence is saved for the end of this article.)
While it’s fashionable to speak of a “commitment to excellence” or striving towards excellence, the sad truth is that most people would rather do something else with their time. This explains why so few individuals or businesses become truly excellent or sustain excellence. If you stop listening to most people who speak about wanting excellence and instead watch their actions here is what you’ll notice more often than not:
- Most folks are more focused on finding fault with others than chasing personal excellence.
- On any given day they’d rather sleep in or stay out late than become excellent.
- The masses are content to wait to become excellent, or for someone to “make” them excellent, than they are to work towards its attainment.
- They wing it each day, put in minimum effort, gossip, complain and make excuses rather than choose behaviors that would move towards excellence.
- Surfing the Internet, keeping up with the Kardashians and playing fantasy football is far more interesting to the multitudes than paying the price for excellence through self-education, physical exercise, the building of their most essential relationships or working to advance a cause beyond themselves.
- Many seek out shortcuts, quit when it gets tough, or snivel about how the “haves” get all the breaks rather than humble themselves, find a mirror, suck it up, break a sweat and work for excellence.
- Increasing numbers find it easier to point to their boss, the economy, their competition, their upbringing, race, creed, ethnicity, the president, their priest or parents to explain why they’re not excellent.
- The non-excellent are content in investing more energy rehearsing the tales of yesterday, and living in past glory years than they do building an excellent future.
- The “excellent wannabes” prefer to boast that they’re #1 despite the fact they’re worse than they used to be, and fail to recognize that being on top isn’t synonymous with having become truly excellent.
Excellence is elusive; it will not naturally ensue just because you show up each day and work hard. You must tenaciously pursue excellence over time by consistently doing more of what matters most. You have likely figured out by now that the number one obstacle you’ll face in your quest to become excellent is you. You simply must get out of your own way and forego the self-destructive decisions and behaviors holding you back from excellence: expedient rather than right decisions, shortcuts, an addiction to instant gratification, the unwillingness to focus, or the resistance to trade in what is temporarily easy and enjoyable for what is hard, but significant.
The lesson: many are interested in excellence; few are committed to it or attain it. How about you? How about your team? Incidentally, you don’t have to answer this question aloud. Your daily decisions and actions tell the story for you.