Bridging Leadership Lessons from the Workplace and Those Experiences Shaping Today's Youth and Tomorrow's Leaders
In a previous post, I introduced the 1st Pillar of Impact, the Courage to Challenge. These pillars are key principles that I feel are critical to success and are traits that I look for in future teammates. I refer to these as Pillars of Impact as they are foundational to move from making yourself better to helping others get better as well.
The 2nd Pillar of Impact is Expect Excellence. This can be tricky for some as they confuse it with seeking perfection. But it’s not about being perfect but a mindset that focuses on the journey and the approach more than the outcome.
Don’t Confuse the Goal with the Process
Excellence is not about the Goal. As James Clear points out in Atomic Habits, the Goal focuses on a short-term outcome at a point in time versus the system or process that leads to recurring success. Achievement versus sustained excellence. Getting a fish versus knowing how to fish.
The pursuit of excellence is a mindset, a culture, a pattern of behaviors that seeks improvement. I disagree with the concept of “Never be Satisfied.” I understand the intent to motivate and strive for continued growth, but this approach is empty and not sustainable. You can take satisfaction in what you have accomplished and your effort. Take time to celebrate and recognize achievements because everyone likes to win. But don’t stop. Let it drive you to seek continued satisfaction through growth, improvement and your continued pursuit of excellence.
Expect Excellence in Yourself AND Others
When you talk about the journey of excellence, I try to distinguish between seeking & pursuing excellence, and I try to make sure the team understands this as well. Seeking comes across that you are looking for an end state or some definition of what it means to be excellent. While pursuing seems to insinuate a journey or a chase that moves you further down the road. Your definition of what is excellent will change and be refined as your journey continues.
This is important to distinguish so that as you expect excellence in others, they are working with the same definition and are playing by the same rules. If you allow them to seek and end state and then they stop in belief that they have achieved their goal, you will experience frustration as their path is different from the one you are traveling.
In some cases, expecting excellence in others is not popular and can lead to conflict. Therefore the 1st Pillar of Impact, Courage to Challenge, needs to be established first. If you already have positional power, then the organizational authority can help somewhat with how you work and set expectations, but that alone is not enough if you are to move your organization forward. We will discuss more on this topic when we touch on the 3rd Pillar of Impact.
As you raise the bar and expect excellence in others, you will get push back. People can get defensive, jealous, or even resistant. “Who do you think you are?” will start to be asked and you will see the organizational silos start to be reinforced and they will find ways to deflect and change the focus.
That is why you must successfully paint the picture of what Excellence means to you and how they not only fit into the picture but can help paint that picture. With a shared vision that you create together, they understand the excellence you are pursuing and are willing to identify the processes and pathways to move in that direction.
Creating the Shared Vision
When we started our Operations organization on the journey towards World Class Manufacturing, we met with key members of the organization at many levels to define what that picture looked like, to define what it meant to be World Class. What resulted was a future state in which we described what a World Class manufacturing company would be doing - not KPI’s or specific goals, but the behaviors and activities that are embraced by World Class Manufacturing companies.
At our group meetings, I would read verbatim, from the slides that we used to describe the Excellence we were moving to in the future. When I present, I never read from the slides. I use a free-flowing approach where I talk with the audience in a casual and connected style. I would stress to the team that I am going to read each sentence because it is that important to understand the picture of where we are heading, so that we can pursue Excellence together.
Over the years at our monthly meetings, I would then read the future state line-by-line and ask the employees if they feel we are living that specific description. If their response was no, I would then ask if they felt we were moving in that direction. If yes, great, we celebrate. If not, then we talk about why not. Do we need to change how we are pursuing, keep pursuing or does that specific picture of excellence no longer make sense?
Expect Excellence in the Beginning
Creating that shared vision is a great way to align people on the journey. But what about new people joining the team? When we hire an employee into our group, I have a quick phone call or a Teams video to reinforce expectations. I bluntly and energetically explain about how I expect excellence from them, not perfection, but excellence. They should expect excellence from themselves as well AND from those they work with. I then explain if they cannot find the Courage to Challenge or are not willing to come along on our journey for excellence, then they need to turn down the job as they are not a fit for our team.
The journey of Excellence is not easy and is not for everyone. It is not about achieving a goal or hitting a deadline. It is about the process of growth and being better today than you were yesterday. It is the pursuit of the Expectation of Excellence that creates impact Beyond Today.
Tom Brown - a husband and a father who is simply trying to make a difference. Using my experience as a Manufacturing Executive to connect leadership from the boardroom to the hardwood to help teams grow and develop to make a difference in the lives of others.