Excellence – if not now, when?

Excellence is an exciting topic. Is it about being perfect, never making a mistake? Or is it more about a mindset and set of behaviours?

In this article, I will share five tips that individually, and collectively, will have you achieving excellence more often, than not.

More than 25 years experience and the following resources have catalysed my thinking and practices on this topic:

  • In Search of Excellence” by Tom Peters and Tom Waterman (1982)
  • The Excellence Dividend” by Tom Peters (2018)
  • Mindset – How you can fulfil your potential” by Carol S Dweck (2006)
  • Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey (1989)

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Excellence is not perfection. Perfection is an unrealistic goal and causes paralysis rather than action (a view expressed by Dan Pena, affectionately known as the 50 Billion Dollar Man). Excellence is about striving to be your best every day. It includes the willingness to learn from mistakes. Learning, therefore, is a pre-requisite for achieving excellence. The world is not static, which is why learning is a necessity. If the world is not static, and it keeps moving and changing, then you have to keep taking action to work out and discover what will work today. And, what works today didn’t necessarily work yesterday, and won’t necessarily work tomorrow. You have to keep moving. Just ask the taxi industry about the accuracy of this statement! Excellence, therefore, requires action and learning.

1. Adopt a growth mindset

A growth mindset accepts the modern view that the brain’s intelligence and capacity for learning is not fixed. Instead, humans can continue to learn throughout our entire lives. When you have a growth mindset, you are prepared to move beyond your comfort zone. Rather than staying ‘safe’, when a new opportunity arises, you grab it with both hands and learn like crazy. Janine Ellis, the founder of Boost Juice, was asked why she would go on the reality TV show  Australian Survivor. She replied that it was because the experience would push her beyond her boundaries and help her to discover things about herself she didn’t know. And this is from a successful businesswoman in her 50s. No wonder Janine has been successful.

A growth mindset embraces learning and includes the motto, “In the twenty-first century, oxygen and learning are of equal value for humans. Without oxygen, you are dead. And without learning, your career is dead.

2. Remember to tuck the shower curtain inside the bathtub

Tom Peters now starts every presentation with this quote from Conrad Hilton. When I ask audiences what they think this quote means, they invariably say, “Little things matter. Do them. Always.

Notice things that need to be done. Be aware. Wipe down the whiteboard after you have finished using it. Say sorry when you err. Deliver on your promises, or, if you discover you can’t, apologise and do what you can as soon as you can.

3. Invest in relationships. People matter. Always.

Maintain awareness of what is happening with the people around you. At a recent leadership program, a young participant shared that while doing her part-time job, she received some bad news and needed to go home. Without asking for details, a colleague immediately offered to cover the remainder of her shift so that she could go leave work. She said that he was aware enough, at that time, to help without prying. She then asked me if this was an example of what I meant by “Invest in relationships“?

My reply, “It’s exactly what this means!”.

With people, little things matter. Trust is earned one little effort at a time. And, it is earned without expecting anything in return. Be genuine. Put people first. They’ll notice.

4. Listen

Yes. If you haven’t already worked it out, these five tips are interdependent. You can’t show other people they matter if you don’t listen. Keep your lips closed and listen. You don’t have to listen for agreement, just understanding. People want understanding more than agreement. And, when many of us live in a world when so many amazing people are fluent in multiple languages, they won’t always have the ‘right’ words in your language to express what they mean. Be patient. Check your understanding of what they have said, before moving on in the conversation. Listen for keywords (nouns and verbs) and work them into the conversation to demonstrate that you listened.

How many times have you contributed to conversations where everyone is talking, and no one is listening? It isn’t rocket science that listening makes a massive difference to the quality of your conversations. One person, if they are prepared to listen, can significantly improve the quality of a conversation, even when no one else is listening. Why? Listening breeds listening. Try it; you’ll see it’s true. Listening is the fertile ground from which effective action grows.

5. Excellence is the next five minutes

Another “Tom Peters-ism”. Excellence is about making things happen and getting things done. Deliberately. Purposefully. Accountably. It isn’t about random action. It is conscious action. All four tips above require the mindset that excellence is about intentional, deliberate, purposeful and accountable action. When it doesn’t work out, learn and retake action.

Strive for excellence. Do it now. Tomorrow is too late. Pick something. Work, study, family and take action. You won’t regret it.

Gary Ryan helps talented professionals, their teams and organisations, move Beyond Being Good®

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