Excellence: Your Continual Quest

By Paul D. Casey

Some days at work, I know that I can just live the “get-by life” (as coined by Jim Rohn): I know the right things to say in meetings, I keep up with emails, shuffle paperwork, bang out reports, and chit-chat with employees and colleagues.  You know what I mean, right? I go home thinking: Did I move the ball forward? Did I make a difference? Or did I just take up space and “get-by”?  I know I wasn’t intentional in pursuing excellence.

Excellence is defined as:  to be superior in some area, to do extremely well, to surpass or outdo

When I looked up the definition in my hard copy of Webster’s dictionary (Yes, I actually grabbed the book off the shelf and didn’t Google or Wikipedia it!), I noticed something that produced the bones of this article: there were 3 words on the same page (page 459, to be exact) that further bring out what excellence means to me, and what it could continue to mean for you as you lead at work, at home, and in your community.

  • Exceed: to go beyond in quality; to surpass others. Sometimes, this isn’t rewarded by our supervisors: The annual Dilbert contest winner came from a 3M manager: “No one will believe you solved this problem in one day! We’ve been working on it for months. Now go act busy for a few weeks and I’ll let you know when it’s time to tell them.”

You and I pursue excellence when we exceed the standards with which we must comply–when those who have done the identical job stand back and go, “slow down, Dude, you’re making me look bad!”(That’s an actual quote an ex-government contractor technician heard from a co-worker before quitting to go into another field that appreciated excellence.) Sometimes that’s true: they say that you can always tell a pioneer—she’s the one with the arrows sticking out of her back. Those that “settle for” don’t always appreciate you when you go beyond.

The Continual Quest for Excellence, Explained by a Trusted Life Coach

If you have ever had a performance appraisal and gotten “exceeds expectations” instead of just “meets expectations”, you know you are on the right track and people are taking notice of the job well done you are performing regularly.

  • Exceptional: Unusually excellent; extraordinary.  One of the FISH principles is Make Their Day, a concept the guys at Pike Place Market in Seattle have built into their philosophy for obtaining customers and leaving people better than they came into their business.

It’s like when someone has a certain negative or so-so expectation, and then gets blown out of the water by their experience with you. This could be in making a huge deal in personalizing a reward. It could be the niceties you plug into and around a normally-boring seminar on technical issues that brighten up the participants’ attitudes.  It could be how quickly you get the report done to your supervisor, when typically he/she would have to bug you up until the deadline. Being exceptional is a choice!

  • Excitable: capable of responding to a stimulus. Some of your direct reports (and maybe some family members) may seem like they could never get excited about anything. But when was the last time you owned the fact that as a leader you have the responsibility of bringing out the best in each employee on your team?  You can “excite” their best contribution, best ideas, best teamwork.

It’s all in the HOW you lead your one-to-one’s, how you coach and give feedback, and how you lead your meetings.  People-development has to be one of your highest leverage activities (HLA’s for you who like acronyms!), and has the biggest return on investment—and best chance of engaged team members. Excite them with how you care about and value them and their success, and the vision you are calling them to.

So, a quick self-check in this last month of the year, which is a great opportunity to evaluate how your life is going in all aspects: What percentage of your time this year have you pursued excellence in all the roles you play at work and in life?  30, 60, 90 percent? Was the rest of the time living a get-by life—doing the job description but not working toward unmatched performance? Let that percentage be used as motivation for increased passion for the new year.  Just say NO to survival and maintenance mode!

My 3 most ingrained core values as a life coach in Washington are faith, family, and growth. In the introduction, I confessed when I am living the get-by life at work. But on the flipside, when applied to my values, I worship a God of excellence—so I’m most like Him when I’m pursuing excellence. In my family life, I am an excellent father and husband when I intentionally am doing habits that are improving relationships. And in my own personal and professional growth, when I choose to read books/magazines, listen to audios/podcasts and network with great leaders, I am seeking to grow and become more excellent for the benefit of others.

Take some time to bask in the excellent results you have done and continue your pursuit of excellence, a pursuit that we must encourage each other to re-up every day in the New Year.