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Inspire the Pursuit of Excellence in Your People

Every day you, and the people you lead have a choice. You can embrace mediocrity, or you can punch mediocrity in the mouth and embrace the pursuit of excellence. Mediocrity is always the easy choice because you just show up and do what you did the day before, the week before, the month before and the year before. There is little to no work that goes into mediocrity. There is little perceived risk to embracing mediocrity. I say perceived risk, because the reality is that there is huge risk with embracing mediocrity.

While there are many definitions for mediocrity, the one I like comes from Todd Henry:

“Mediocrity doesn’t always mean underperforming—it’s a sliding scale and a state of mind. It means settling in and succumbing to stasis. Mediocrity comes from the Latin words medius, meaning middle, and ocris, meaning a rugged mountain. Literally it means to settle halfway to the summit of a difficult mountain. It’s a compromise of abilities and potential; a negotiation between the drive to excel and the biological urge to settle for the most comfortable option.”

That constant negotiation between the drive to excel and the biological urge to settle for the most comfortable option is one that everyone struggles with. People want to excel, they want to contribute, and they want to be part of something bigger than themselves. Your job as a leader is to create a culture that fosters and feeds that drive.

Mountain View Police Department in California is led by Chief Chris Hsiung, a leader I have a great deal of respect for. The motto on the front of their challenge coin is “Excellence at every opportunity”. James L. Capra is another leader I have great respect for. Jimmy is the author of Leadership at the Front Line and the retired Director of International Operations for the DEA. He continually promoted the philosophy of, “Excellence in everything we do personally and professionally”. The key with both Chris and Jimmy is that excellence is part of the culture of the organizations they lead; it is not just platitudes on some poster on a wall.

“There is no passion to be found in playing small, in living a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

Nelson Mandella

This is about the pursuit of excellence, not perfection. Perfection is an impossible standard. A standard that is impossible to achieve will too often cause people to give up in frustration. While people are striving for excellence they need to understand that in the striving there are times when they will fail. When they do fail it is an opportunity to learn, to grow and to move forward better off for the experience.

The pursuit of excellence is about small incremental improvements, striving to be a little better tomorrow than we are today as individuals, as a group and as an organization.  It is a never ending journey and not a straight line. There will be many ups and downs and twists and turns along the way.

As with all things leadership the best way to inspire a behavior, or culture is to live it and model it every day.

Remember that leadership is a choice and a journey and it starts with you. Choose well, keep learning and enjoy the journey. The Dare to Be Great: Strategies for Creating a Culture of Leading online workshop was created for aspiring leaders and frontline leaders to help you on your leadership journey.

Brian Willis