We often think of excellence as being the brace yourself, high-risk, swing-for-the-fences type of activity that gets us praise and reward. Yet, it's often in the small, mundane things you do every day where true excellence lies.
John Gardner, the former U.S. Secretary for Health, once said that excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well. Think through your average day and the number of ordinary things you do; emails, phone calls, meetings, reports, water cooler conversations, one-on-ones, networking events.
You could say that your day is filled with micro-opportunities to demonstrate excellence. When you aim to get just one percent better at each of these ordinary activities, your excellence builds cumulatively. So far, so simple? I see many leaders struggling to deliver excellence for their organization, however, and it's usually down to one of these five aspects:
1. It's all urgent.
Everything feels like a crisis that needs to get attended to now. You spend too much of your time focused on the short-term, tactical, day-to-day activities. It feels like you're constantly firefighting and lurching from crisis to crisis. As a result, you don't get the opportunity to work on the truly important things you need to get done.
The best way to counter this is to get really good at managing your attention by exercising ruthless prioritization when new interruptions come your way. Get good at saying no instead of always saying yes.
2. We crave heroics.
You believe your job is to provide the answers and solve your team's problems for them. You love to save the day, make the diving catch, and get your team out of a sticky situation. Your team becomes more and more reliant on your for success. And you keep looking for bigger and better ways to prove your worth.
To stop the cycle, start delegating more from your to-do list and push decision making deeper into your team.
3. Our people have learned to be helpless.
As a direct result of the point above, your team has stopped taking ownership and accountability of their own excellence. After all, you're going to swoop in and fix it for them anyway, so why bother? They constantly escalate their issues and defer to you. Your team doesn't grow or develop, and you end up overworked, resentful, and burnt out.
Rather than simply fixing your team's problems for them, guide them to success by helping them uncover the root causes of their challenges for themselves and supporting them in their plan of action.
You're always on the lookout for more exciting things to do. You know you really should work on that sales report but wouldn't it be more interesting if your biggest customer had an issue that you could help with? You spend your day putting off those important things in search of something that may give you more of an endorphin rush. Either they don't get done, they get done to a lesser quality or someone else on your team has to pick up the slack.
To prevent this from happening, schedule some time first thing in the morning to work through those uninspiring tasks and don't let yourself off the hook until you crank through them. You'll thank yourself for it later.
5. Lagging energy levels.
Do you ever notice you have a repeatable cycle of energy levels? For me, mornings are great, afternoons are bad and Wednesday afternoon is the worst. During those down times, you may hit a slump that hinders or halts your progress. Things don't get done entirely to the same standard or level of quality that you're used to.
Use this to your advantage by using the down times to work through those tasks which require less concentration rather than just waiting for it to pass you by.
Spend today observing your behavior and interactions with your team. Do you notice any of these creeping in?