The Paradox Of Excellence

Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal – a commitment to excellence – that will enable you to attain the success you seek.” – Mario Andretti


“Let’s do everything with excellence.”  OK, I thought as I heard the comment, that makes sense.  Who wants to be the opposite and do nothing with excellence.  I nodded my head like a good boy.  I’m in, let’s be excelllent.

Throughout my career I’ve heard different people making the excellence argument.  But I could never figure out what that meant.  The dictionary seems to indicate it’s “possessing outstanding quality or superior merit; remarkably good.”  That seems clear.  Sort of.

Unfortunately excellence is not as ubiquitous as people want to think.  Michael Jordan is excellent, John Wooden was excellent, American Pie is excellent, Star Wars is excellent.  But is your radio station excellent?  Is it excellent because you say so?  Or is it the people who call and tell you how great you are, which never includes the voice of people who aren’t calling you.  Perhaps just your being there makes it excellent.

Saying so is easy, but achieving excellence is not.  Excellence is a quality that people appreciate partially because it is so hard to find.  And like many things, excellence is a journey, not a destination.  We should appreciate the work that went into achieving excellence more than excellence itself.

Which calls for a better understanding of what excellence is.  Fortunately the Internet can help you with whatever you need, and I found something that made great sense to me.  It’s a roadmap for excellence, sort of a ‘how-to” for those who really want to pursue excellence:

INTEGRITY – Match behavior with values.  Demonstrate your positive personal values in all you do and say. Be sincere and real.

FAILURE LEADS TO SUCCESS – Learn from mistakes, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  View failures as feedback that provides you with the information you need to learn, grow, and succeed.

SPEAK WITH GOOD PURPOSE – Speak honestly and kindly. Think before you speak. Make sure your intention is positive and your words are sincere.

THIS IS IT! – Make the most of every moment. Focus your attention on the present moment. Keep a positive attitude.

COMMITMENT – Make your dreams happen.  Take positive action. Follow your vision without wavering.

OWNERSHIP – Take responsibility for actions.  Be responsible for your thoughts, feelings, words, and actions. “Own” the choices you make and the results that follow.

FLEXIBILITY – Be willing to do things differently.  Recognize what’s not working and be willing to change what you’re doing to achieve your goal.

BALANCE – Live your best life.  Be mindful of self and others while focusing on what’s meaningful and important in your life. Inner happiness and fulfillment come when your mind, body, and emotions are nurtured by the choices you make.

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.