Excellence: To Have Distinguished or Superior Quality
Leaders set the bar. Those following them will rise to whatever example they set. If they work with energy and enthusiasm, it increases the odds that their entire team will do the same. If they demonstrate honesty and integrity in their ethics, the chances increase that their department will follow. It is for this reason that it is so important for leaders to demonstrate excellence.
Excellence is an across-the-board attribute. It comes from the heart of a person, affecting everything they do and how they relate to others. As Mario Andretti said, “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.”[i]
The trick here is that it is very easy to expect excellence from our employees without truly examining ourselves to make sure that we are setting the example for them to follow. No one will be inspired to follow excellence as a rule, but nearly everyone is inspired by excellence as an example.
“Be a yardstick of quality,” said Steve Jobs. ”Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”[ii] It’s good that we expect excellence. It’s better that we demonstrate it.
Excellence affects performance. I remember all the cars my family owned when I was growing up. There weren’t many because we drove cars pretty much until they died. But there was one that didn’t take very long to reach that point. It died very quickly. I remember my mom joking about how it must have been made on a Monday or a Friday because whoever built the car was either looking forward to or backward at their weekend instead of being attentive to their work.. That experience so colored our view of that brand of cars that our entire family has stayed far away from it ever since.
Excellence affects relationships. True, there are several elements that work together to build healthy relationships, like communication, conflict resolution skills, and the ability to establish healthy boundaries. But if we settle for being mediocre at these things then we will only have mediocre relationships at best.
INTEGRITY AND PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY
No one wants mediocre performance or relationships. So why do we achieve less than excellence in these areas? It has to do with integrity and personal accountability. Integrity provides the inner standard that compels us to excellence even when no one is looking. But almost everyone has off days, gets tired, or has stressful periods of life that make distraction come more easily. Those are the days when accountability is important.
Many people have a negative view of accountability. In their experience it is having someone point out all their mistakes. This may be part of the accountability process, but it should only be a small part. When accountability is done well, it accounts for your ability. It measures how high your potential is and then encourages you to rise to it. This may include some level of processing through failures, but it always returns our vision to what is possible.
Also, it’s worth noting that healthy accountability comes from trusted leaders or peers in our lives who can help us rise up to our potential. Some leaders in our lives have a responsibility to keep us accountable in the same way that we are responsible for holding our employees accountable. But when we remember what accountability really is and that it ideally comes from people we trust, it becomes a warm blanket instead of a smothering weight.
Excellence affects community. We’re more familiar with negative examples than positive ones—Enron, BP, banks in the housing crisis, government—but all of these arose from a lack of thorough excellence. Imagine the difference if companies maintained excellence across the board and what impact that would have in the lives of the employees as they took that excellence into their homes and neighborhoods. What if those who served on our nation’s school boards and city councils could transfer the excellence from our businesses to the other places where they serve?
Excellence affects our corporate reputation. One brand has notably built its reputation on reliable excellence: Toyota. For years, this one attribute is what set them apart from most other car manufacturers and enabled them to have growing market-share for thirty years in a row. That incredible string of growth ended when the trust they had built with the market was damaged because of the deadly issue of unintended acceleration.[iii] This lapse of their tradition of excellence cost as many as thirty-four lives, numerous injuries, and an unknown amount of vehicle damage that went unreported. [iv] These costs are the real issue, but the $3.1 billion Toyota paid out in settlements and the money lost from sales they otherwise would have had is also significant. [v] By all accounts, Toyota has returned to their excellence of old, but this is a sharp price to pay for any temporary compromise.
OUR EXPECTATION, OUR EXAMPLE
Excellence is not perfection; it is productive pride to utilize the talents, experience, and abilities we have to give each moment our best effort. We cannot bury our talent, get sloppy with talent, or give anything short of our best, especially as leaders.
Let excellence be our expectation, and let it be our example, for as each part of our organization becomes excellent in what they do best, leveraging their strengths for the good of the whole, our organizations will thrive and we—individually, organizationally, and our communities—will see the impact of excellence.
Worldwide Copyright TJ Associates, LLC Diane Kucala, April 2013