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.

Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get

Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organization is transformed – the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day – Frances Hesselbein

As the Dramatics once said, “You know some people, Are made of lies, To bring you down, And shame your name.*

I’ve worked in places like that.  They have virutous slogans on the wall, and preach about their “culture,” but only rarely does what they say match with what you see.

Managers try, often by spreading little slogans around the station.  But a quote hanging on the wall is more of an aspiration, not a core value.  We can aspire to have a strong corporate culture like Zappos or Chick-Fil-A, but still act like your values are, “Beatings will continue until morale improves.”  What you do is more important that what you say.  In fact many organizations lose credibility on the culture front because they aren’t consistent with what they do and what they say,  It works against them.  People begin to distrust anything management says, and accept the real culture is what they see happening, not what management says.  Soon, they’re not paying any attention to what management says.

Whatcha See is Whatcha Get

So, who really cares?  Well, if you look at the best performing organizations around the country, there’s a direct parallel between a strong, well-understood culture and success.  Conversely, those with cultures and realities that don’t match, as the least successful.  More personally, people will stop believing what you say, and accept what you do as the true culture.

And you may not like that!


* The Dramatics, 1972