I can remember as a kid watching an interview with the basketball coach of Marquette at the time, Al McGuire. He was the head coach of the men's basketball team from 1964 to 1977. He won a national championship at Marquette and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992. He was asked this question: how do you know how good someone is? I'll never forget his rather simple answer. He said: "you never know how good a player is until they stop improving!"
As organizations and leaders, we have the choice to continuously improve or to slowly slip to a place of less relevance. Seven traits show up again and again when we study the habits of people who continuously improve:
1. Make no excuses
Excuses stop you from acting with new information and having the persistence that you will not be denied. Excuses have a way of slowly changing your mindset from being intensely focused on getting better to being preoccupied with being bitter.
Bitter is where improvement stops and the excuse wins. Whenever a performance or outcome is less than desired, instead of rationalizing it with excuses ask yourself: how did I contribute to this outcome and what do I need to do different going forward? You will only ever live the life you create for yourself. So do you really want to spend it making excuses?
2. Celebrate other people's success
If you can't celebrate the success of others, it will be hard to celebrate your own. Don't compare your progress, accomplishments or quality of life to others. This only drains the focus on getting better. The world has abundance - there is enough success for everyone. Continuous improvement people celebrate others' successes along with their own versus getting caught in competitive comparisons.
3. Give and receive feedback
Feedback is a gift and continuous improvement people have learned that some kind of failure often occurs before success. The feedback from that failure is often the key ingredient for success the next time around.
4. Don't feel sorry for yourself
People inclined toward continuous improvement don't waste time feeling sorry for themselves. They gain confidence by taking incremental steps of progress rather than from dwelling on missed opportunities or mistakes.
5. Lose yourself
Continuous improvement people spend no time at all on what's in it for me (WIIFM). Improving, finding a better way, becoming even more capable - these are their driving forces. They intuitively know that if they create value, it will find them in return. They give without expecting anything in return. Lose yourself in a cause you believe in or a problem that has defied a solution, and make it better.
6. Don't oppose
Opposing something never makes improvement happen. Each idea can be a stimulant to iterate to a better idea, better approach and a better way. Instead of opposing a thought or suggestion, ask how it might this help you elevate your game and use it as a jumping off point versus wasting any time trying to be against it.
7. Doing is more important than thinking
Improvement never comes to you while you are thinking about it. You are what you do. Knowledge is basically useless without action. Good things don't come to those that wait, they come to those that ask what they can do today to learn and move forward now.
Do you have a number 8 to add to my list? Do it in the comments!