The Leadership Blog

The Pursuit of Excellence

accountability better communication courageous leadership excellence growth mindset leadership lessons Mar 10, 2024

“Excellence is not an exception; it’s a prevailing attitude.” Former Secretary of State Colin Powell

Here’s what excellence isn’t.  It’s not perfectionism.  Studies from Finland to Italy have linked perfectionism to burnout.  We can’t be perfect no matter how hard we try.  But a commitment to growth and continuous improvement helps us achieve excellence.

I feel like I learned this the hard way.  Early in my career as a commercial television anchor and reporter, I remember everyone telling me what I wasn’t.  

I wasn’t pretty enough. I didn’t write good enough.  I didn’t have the best voice.  I remember an agent telling me once, I didn’t have “It.”  He couldn’t define what “IT” was but he knew I didn’t have it.

That’s tough to hear when you’re inexperienced and insecure.  Those words felt pretty awful at the time but in hindsight they were exactly what I needed to hear to set me on my pursuit of excellence.

If you're not growing and working at getting better, you have no shot at experiencing the thrill that comes from being great at what you do. As NBA coach and general manager Pat Riley said, Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.” 

Here are some tips from Psychology Today.

  • Pursuing excellence rather than perfection heightens our enjoyment of the process rather than attachment to the outcome.
  • Being open to curiosity and wonder can help promote a growth mindset and combat perfectionism.

That desire for excellence is a powerful motivator.  It took me years to realize I would never be perfect, but I could be better.  New York Times Bestselling Author and leadership guru John Maxwell teaches that one of the best ways to inspire excellence is to try to consistently exceed expectations. John said, “That’s what feeds my desire for mastery, and it starts with the little things. My desire for excellence has become a prevailing attitude.”  He suggests we do the following every day, 

  • Expect more out of yourself than others expect out of you. Set your own standard. 
  • Value people too much to not give them your best. Develop the desire to help others.
  • Remind yourself that respect must be earned daily. People may honor you for what you did yesterday, but they respect you only for what you are doing today. 

What does your pursuit of excellence look like?  What are you doing to invest in your leadership growth?  I always say a day without learning is like a day without sunshine.  Learning has become part of my DNA.  I remain a very curious person and that curiosity serves me well, because it keeps me growing and focused on excellence.