Why is Excellence Important?
By: Mike Murray and Dan Voss
“Excellence can be achieved if you risk more than others think is safe, love more than others think is wise, dreammore than others think is practical, and expect more than others think is possible.” —Anonymous
Whether the topic is personal excellence or organizational excellence, the principle is the same. When you focus on excelling at whatever you do, your name (or your organization’s name) is always part of the discussion for the next big thing.
A favorite story of mine is Sylvester Stallone’s rags-to-riches saga of how he overcame overwhelming odds in his life to be the international movie star we know him to be today. When he was a baby, he was born with a half-paralyzed face due to birth complications, which led to a slurred speech. This was the key reason why he was rejected thousands of times by casting agents. Because he never gave up, he finally got his big break as the star of Rocky one day—and this came after years and years of relentlessly trying.
I have often heard various versions of the expression, “If you’re going to be a ditch digger, be the best ditch digger in the world.” Oprah Winfrey says it this way: “Doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.” Through many years of my life, I’ve learned that pursuing excellence in everything I do is infinitely better than settling for mediocrity. It should seem obvious that the pursuit of excellence in everything you do would be the surest road to maximizing your potential, yet so few of us strive to do just that. You will never be disappointed in your pursuit of excellence, for there are no traffic jams along the extra mile.
Everything…everything can be done either horribly, somewhat well, very well, or excellently. This applies to jobs, relationships, hobbies, speaking, writing…everything. If you’re willing to settle for “horribly” or “somewhat well,” be ready to accept the rewards of having something that’s less than what other people are willing to accept. But if you strive for “very well” or “excellently,” you’ll reap a bigger reward and your legacy will be that of someone who tried to “do it better” and succeeded. Someone who does things excellently will be remembered well. Someone who slides by and settles for less will be remembered as a slacker. It’s completely up to us whether we strive for excellence or whether we’re willing to just let life pass by without putting out the extra effort.
My entire philosophy of excellence is predicated on the hypothesis that the essence of excellence lies in the quality of the individual’s performance. The key, then, is to build and sustain a culture in which each individual contributor is inspired to passionately and voluntarily give his or her best every day. Whether it’s in an STC chapter or in a huge international corporation, this philosophy holds true. An organization cannot achieve a level of excellence without individual members or employees who are themselves committed to excellence.
Every human being wants to be valued and appreciated. Employees and volunteers respond to appreciation expressed through recognition of their good work because it confirms their work is valued. When employees and their work are valued, their satisfaction and productivity rises, and they are motivated to maintain or improve their good work.
In my tenure as chapter president, I realized the importance of getting to know the members individually and to identify the skills of each that were a fit for a specific position, thereby increasing their probability of achieving success. Once, a member stepped in without being asked and took over the responsibilities of a suddenly departing volunteer in addition to her own commitments to our community. She was a real hero in my eyes, and I took the opportunity to create the Chapter Hero award—a simple, inexpensive piece of round Lucite that included the person’s name, date, and the words “Chapter Hero.” Another time, a volunteer committed to making a presentation at the STC annual conference in spite of feeling so nervous at the thought of public speaking that she worried about the possibility of freezing up or even fainting on the stage. Because she gave it her best in spite of her fears, I created the G.U.T.S. certificate because she “Gave Up The ’Scuses,” overcame her trepidation, and delivered an excellent presentation.
There has never been a volunteer who has been thanked too often! To paraphrase STC Fellow W.C. Wiese, “You can never have too many awards.” Recognition before peers can be a powerful tool in developing a growing sense of excellence. People within an organization want to keep feeling that sense of pride and fulfillment and encourage others to “bask in the sunshine” along with them. They feel valued and needed, thereby encouraging them to continue on the road to excellence that the entire organization will share. It only takes a few such volunteers or employees to create an excellent organization, but every one of them is needed. After all, that ditch isn’t going to dig itself!
U.S. women’s soccer star Michele Akers personified commitment to excellence. Akers, an aggressive attacking center midfielder regarded as one of the greatest female soccer players of all time, was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS) in 1991 just as she was reaching the peak of her game. (Voss, 2003).
In her acclaimed book The Game and the Glory, Michele explained: “I get what they term ‘shocky’—my body starts going into shock as my blood goes to my vital organs instead of into my arms and legs. As my blood pressure drops, the blood flow to my brain diminishes, my mind gets mushy, and I lose concentration. A tornado roars in my head, my thoughts scatter, and my body feels weighted down and as slow as molasses. Sometimes I’ve actually gotten delirious on the field and had to be led to the bench by my teammates or the trainers.” (Akers, 1999, p. 27)
Michele refused to give in to the CFIDS and remained a key player on the U.S. women’s national soccer team. However, her disability reared its ugly head as the U.S. was playing China for the World Cup in 1999. As center mid, Michele’s job that day was to contain China’s high-scoring striker Sun Wen, their greatest weapon and, as such, the biggest threat to the U.S. team’s bid for the Cup. In so doing, there was no time for her disability.
“I can’t afford that this afternoon. If I’m tracking Sun Wen, I gotta be on. One half-second of distraction or a single mistake in judgment could cost a goal, or the game, and a world championship.” (p. 27)
As it turns out, Michelle did shut out Sun Wen that day. She gave it everything she had for 90 excruciating minutes, only to topple, nearly unconscious, to the turf after a collision with U.S. goalie Briana Scurry while helping to prevent China from netting the winning goal just as regulation time was about to expire.
Michelle was carried from the field and rushed to the triage unit, where she gradually regained consciousness as IV fluids coursed into her veins. She recalls being vaguely conscious of the din of the crowd rocking the stadium above her, at first wondering what the score was during the overtime session—then awakening to the realization that the score had to be 0-0 … until either the “golden goal” or penalty kicks resolved the outcome.
No, Michelle was not physically on the field as Brandi Chastain scored the winning goal on the fifth and final penalty kick, ripped off her jersey, and fell to her knees waving the jersey like a victory flag as her teammates mobbed her—an image that will live in sports history. But you can bet that Michelle’s spirit was on that field every step of the way during those two overtimes, during those five PKs, inspiring her teammates to victory.
NEXT TIME: What must we do to reach it?
Akers, Michelle, 1999. The Game and the Glory, an Autobiography. Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. ISBN: 0-310-23529-4 (hard)
Voss, Dan, 2003. “In World Cup Soccer and in Overcoming Disabilities, ‘Impossible’ is Just Another Word for ‘Work Harder,’” Proceedings to the 50th Annual International STC Conference, Dallas, TX.