Pursue Excellence, Not PerfectionSep 28, 2022
Our LHLN team has been releasing video shorts of me talking about a variety of topics on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok (you can see these if you follow us on these platforms). This week, we released one on pursuing excellence which I wanted to expand upon in this week’s blog post. Too often as leaders, we confuse the pursuit of excellence with being perfect. This is not the case and it is important to understand the difference.
The legendary coach, Vince Lombardi, said it best when he said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” Sports offer us numerous examples of the pursuit of excellence including but not limited to: Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Serena Williams, and so on. Athletics offer so many ready examples of people who commit to developing and perfecting their skills so as to pursue excellence in their chosen sport.
In leadership, it is not so different, but can often get clouded by the pressures placed upon us from superiors and the day-to-day grind of leading organizations as well as people. When we focus on perfection, we assume that humans are capable of such an outcome. The adage of “no one’s perfect” is true. We all have strengths and weaknesses that we deal with daily. Those among us who achieve in the pursuit of excellence typically do a few things different than the rest. Let’s look at 3 core qualities that these achievers have:
- They desire excellence in all they do. The key is what they value and what they want. You have to “want to” do it in order to develop the drive to pursue it. When you really want to be the best leader, lose the weight, or train for a marathon, you will go “all in” for pursuing (and likely achieving) that goal. When others push you or make their goals your goals, it’s often with a half-hearted effort that we pursue it. While having an accountability partner is helpful to achieving your goals, you ultimately need to have the "want to" on your own. Only then will you develop the action plan and habits that lead to success.
- They learn from and benchmark against the best. When athletes pursue excellence, many will attribute their success to a desire to be like another to whom they admire as a success within their chosen field. They set goals and targets for success that are against the best, not just the average. Set your ultimate goal and then intermediary goals to hit at specific times that lead up to that ultimate goal you have set. This works for personal as well as professional goals. The tough part is setting your mind to the fact that you can achieve what you want and creating realistic milestones that create the roadmap to that goal. Find experts from whom you can learn - they may be famous or not, but the point is they have something of value to teach you and make you better in your pursuit of excellence.
- They have and keep a "can-do" mindset. This is what we would call a "growth mindset". There’s a saying if your mind can conceive it, your body can achieve it. The more we learn about mindset and how it influences our achievement, the more we understand the importance of developing a growth mindset. Carol Dweck writes about her research in her groundbreaking book, "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success". Having the self-belief that you can achieve your goals and pursue excellence is absolutely necessary for success. When you visualize your success through mindfulness, you create a can-do attitude that makes you resilient against setbacks you will likely face along your roadmap to goal achievement. Part of this process is not to set goals so low that you achieve them with little effort - aim high, learn from the best, and push yourself out of your comfort zone. This is all part of pursuing excellence that the heroes among us know and do every day.
Pursuing excellence in any endeavor (be it personal or professional) requires clarity of goals, focus on the steps to achieve, finding the information and expertise to learn the best way to achieve, and a growth mindset to persevere through the inevitable setbacks we all face in the pursuit of excellence. Many will say they are perfectionists, and some are when it comes to a craft or hobby, but what we want is to encourage and pursue the perfection of our execution to where we catch excellence more often than not. That is when one creates the right leadership environment that leads to individual and organizational success. This is what made Vince Lombardi legendary as a coach and leader of others. He was able to inspire in his players an intrinsic desire to pursue excellence, while also instilling an overall goal of pursuing excellence together as a team. That’s true excellence and something each of us can learn to do if we start by finding out where we are and where we want to be.
Have a great rest of the week!
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