“Whatever you are, be a good one.” – Abraham Lincoln
It’s pretty common to hear leaders talk about their desire for excellence. They’ll talk about delivering excellent products to their customers, or they’ll talk about their excellent customer service, or they’ll talk about their excellent people, and on and on. It would seem that the world is full of people and organizations who are constantly striving for excellence.
At the risk of sounding cynical, I would argue that is not an accurate picture at all. Most people and organizations are not constantly striving for excellence. They might like excellence in theory, but when it comes to what they actually do, it doesn’t appear that excellence is anywhere on their radar.
What does seem to be on their radar is well-paying mediocrity. I’ll summarize with a quote from a recent conversation: “I already make enough money for the lifestyle I want. Why should I do anything differently?” I think that attitude sums up how most people really feel, even if they won’t admit it, even if most of them aren’t even conscious of it. For the vast majority, good enough seems to be good enough.
To be sure, there is definitely something positive to be said for finding a level of contentment with wherever you’re at. We do need to feel good about ourselves – you can’t go through your entire life thinking you’re not good enough or that your life is a disappointment. We do need to enjoy and appreciate our accomplishments.
All that said, I don’t believe that anyone is put on this planet to be mediocre. Each individual, leader or not, exists to be their best. Not necessarily the best, but their best. In other words, you may not necessarily be great at what you’re doing, but whatever you’re doing, be as great as you can possibly be.
Start small. What’s something you do on a daily basis that you could do 10% better tomorrow? It doesn’t have to be anything enormous; in fact, it shouldn’t be. Pick something little and relatively easy. Figure out how you could do that thing 10% better and then implement the plan. Once you’ve done that, see if you could do another 10%. And then another. And if you can’t figure out how to be any better at that thing, then move on to the next.
Part of the purpose is to improve at those individual things, but the bigger idea is to train yourself to actually strive for excellence. Condition your mind to look for ways to get better and then do it. That push for excellence will become a lifelong journey – one you’ll be glad you started on today.