“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
I don’t think I’ve ever been in a meeting where I heard somebody say, “You know, what I’d really like for this organization is to be consistently mediocre. Run of the mill, average, maybe even a little bit underachieving.” Nobody says that. At least, not out loud.
But there are plenty of organizations where the leaders must be saying that to themselves, because not only is mediocre to below average performance tolerated, it’s often encouraged by the systems and processes in place. Or at least, it’s not discouraged.
I think much of the problem comes from the fact that a huge percentage of the population either a) doesn’t think it’s possible to be excellent, or b) doesn’t really want to work hard enough at it. For the first group, it’s not much different than the attitudes about change we’ve talked about in this space previously (here, here, and here, for starters). People sabotage themselves and their organizations by thinking great things aren’t possible, so then they don’t do the things necessary to achieve those great things, so then they don’t achieve those great things, so then they’re proven right and the belief is reinforced.
For the second group, we’re trained that having a great work ethic is a wonderful quality, and only bad people are lazy, therefore we wouldn’t ever admit to anything that might sound like we don’t want to work hard. And perhaps it’s not so much about not working hard at all as it is about not working hard on the right things. That said, I would tend agree with this guy that indiscriminate activity is a form of laziness.
The point is this: there’s no excuse for any organization to not want to be excellent. It would be similar to a professional football team that isn’t really trying to win the Super Bowl. If you’re not trying to win championships, why are you playing?
There’s also no organization that’s incapable of ever being excellent. Anyone can do it. It may not happen overnight, but it’s possible. It requires discipline and focus and hard work, all of which eventually help you create habits that make excellence attainable.
So if excellence is a habit (who am I to argue with Aristotle?), then ask yourself: What are my habits as a leader? And are they the kind of habits that will allow me to be excellent and that will allow my organization to follow suit? And if not, what am I prepared to do about it?