What Is Excellence?

“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.” – Colin Powell retired General and Chairman of the joint chiefs and former Secretary of State.


People are always talking about excellence. Everyone wants things done with excellence…who wouldn’t? However, what I hear most often is a definition of what we want from others, and rarely a definition for ourselves. I guess we want excellence more than we give excellence.

I had opportunity to to look at what excellence means last week, as my grandson graduated from Air Force boot camp. It turns out “Excellence in all we do” is one part of the Air Forces’ core values. But rather than a great slogan, they really define what it means…for themselves as individuals and as a team. When I read about it I don’t have any questions about what excellence is, or what’s expected of me. And it’s not just informational, it’s inspiring!

Our industry needs a lot of excellence in leadership right now. We have to realize that, much like respect, we get excellence by showing excellence. So how about we put up or shut up? How about if we expect excellence we be ready to give it? What if excellence were defined in terms of what we expect from ourselves?

Here’s an excerpt from the Air Force core value.

Excellence in All We Do

This core value demands Airmen constantly strive to perform at their best. They should always strive to exceed standards objectively based on mission needs. This demands a continuous search for new and innovative ways of accomplishing the mission. There are several aspects of excellence: personal, organizational, resource, and operational.

Personal Excellence. Airmen seek out and complete developmental education, stay in top physical, mental, and moral shape, and continue to refresh their professional competencies. Airmen must ensure their job skills, knowledge, and personal readiness are always at their peak.

Organizational Excellence. Organizational excellence is achieved when its members work together to successfully reach a common goal in an atmosphere that preserves individual self-worth. No Airman wins the fight alone—even the single-seat fighter pilot relies upon scores of maintenance and support personnel to accomplish every sortie. Leaders foster a culture that emphasizes a team mentality while maintaining high standards and accomplishing the mission.

Resource Excellence. Understanding that budgets are not limitless, Air Force leaders aggressively protect and manage both human and material resources. The most precious resource is people, and an effective leader does everything to ensure all personnel are trained, fit, focused, and ready to accomplish their missions. Leaders effectively use their resources to perform assigned tasks and understand they should only obtain resources necessary to accomplish their missions.