Leadership and Everyday Excellence

By Rick Forbus, Ph.D.

Everyday practical leadership does not require flawless execution of management skills, but rather, an intentional pursuit of excellence. As you pursue excellence in your choices, relationships, tasks, planning and even general thought processes, leadership development will surely follow. Living your life and performing your life’s tasks with distinction and quality is a noble quest.

Excellence is the state of excelling. It implies superiority and eminence, according to the dictionary. When someone or something is excellent we believe that there is a quality or feature that stands out in comparison to others. Everyday excellent living can be a pathway to success.

Can excellence be a part of everyday living? Can leadership be practical and obtainable?

Someone has well said…

Excellence can be obtained if you:

  • Care more than others think is wise
  • Risk more than others think is safe
  • Dream more than others think is practical
  • Expect more than others think is possible

I have been “coined.”

Recently I traveled to Fort Jackson, a grand US Army installation, to give some Emotional Intelligence feedback to several leaders there as a precursor to some upcoming work with Army leaders. After a couple of hours of coaching and feedback around a leadership assessment, I completed my task with several of these eager Army officers. As I stood to dismiss myself, the Officer in Charge, stood and grabbed my hand firmly and said thanks to me for my work. I felt something in my hand. I asked him in front of all there, “What is that?” He said, “You have been coined.” Looking in my hand I saw a beautiful insignia coin. I put it in my pocket. Since I didn’t know what he meant, I just grabbed my briefcase and quickly left.

I kept putting my hand down in my pocket the rest of my time on base, as Lt. Col. Dan, my host, took me on a tour and bought my lunch. He didn’t know it but I kept touching that coin in my pocket. When I returned home, I showed it to my wife, Nancy, and then placed it carefully on the hutch in the breakfast room. I found myself walking past it and looking at it. When my nerve got stronger I emailed Dan and asked him what the coin was all about. Here’s what he told me:

Legend has it that the Special Forces (Army Green Berets) were the first US unit to give coins. I don’t know where
they got it. The coin is a very special “unofficial award” only given to those who are worthy of respect. The coin
symbolized a valuable friendship in conflict, and could be used to gain access and protection in dangerous times.
Soon, the SF soldiers carried the coin tradition to various airborne units in Fort Bragg and the 18th Airborne Corps. Since the coins were personally bequeathed by Commanders and CSMs they were far more desirable than
certificates of appreciation and official Awards. I got my first coin only after four years of service, and many
airborne operations. I treasure it today. Now the coins are much more ornate than they were and they are
bequeathed by Commanders and Senior Officers and Senior Enlisted Soldiers to people that do extraordinary things for their Units. Not everyone gets a coin. Getting a coin is still a big deal. Most professional soldiers collect them and display them in prominent place in their offices. You can tell how long someone has been around by their collection. The boss gave you his coin because your contribution was above and beyond the call of duty.
Lt. Col. Dan (US Army)

Chills ran up my spine when I read his eloquent email response. This story is not included in this article to be
self-inflating and egotistical. It is placed here for this reason: I had just performed my task as I normally attempt to
do so; with everyday excellence. Only this time, it was performed with noble men who understood and
appreciated excellence and rewarded it. Wow! Did that coin teach me a valuable lesson? You bet it did! A wide
range of thoughts and emotions came over me:

  • Humility – The simple honor of the experience.
  • Introspection – Did I really do my best?
  • Dedication – A personal promise within me to always provide excellence.
  • Reflection – These men knew and appreciated excellence and faithfully knew how to give honor to everyday quality.
  • Determination – I am more determined to tell people when they do well, even in small tasks.

What a learning experience. I look forward to working with our nation’s finest. It certainly prompted this article. Many times we think that our lives can never really become significant. Maybe you think sometimes that you could never achieve leadership greatest, or much less life’s excellence. You can attempt to do your best, however. That is the starting point. That is the first success “stepping stone” to a journey of everyday excellence and achieving leadership greatness.

Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude.
Ralph Marston

Instead of trying to be the best, simply do your best. I strongly believe that doing excellent things in an excellent way will change your being from a mediocre being to an excellent being. So, should one do things with excellence first or try to be someone of excellence first? It is a chicken and an egg scenario. Ask these questions:

  • Can my doing of things in an excellent way turn my being into an excellent state of being?
  • If I choose to perform all my simple daily tasks as attempts at excellence will I eventually achieve uncomplicated everyday greatness?
  • Could it be that leadership and greatness are defined by the daily incremental choices and tasks performed with simple excellence?
  • Will a lifestyle of excellence eventually model for others a journey worthy of pursuing?

Excellence is the unlimited ability to improve the quality of what you have to offer.
Rick Pitino

Doing your best is something that you can do any time or any place. You can succeed, no matter who else is involved. Setting a course that necessitates doing your best with each and every task leads to an excellent lifestyle. Eventually, you are going to get better, as you develop your leadership instincts. This means that every time you do your best you’ll be in a different state, which adds newness to every new task you take on. Even more, I think that there is something about doing our best that causes us to want to get better. We are energized by the moment and realize that what we are doing now isn’t the best we could do.

Doing and being your best in everyday things is stimulating and freeing. One reason this is true is that you do not have to get ahead of someone else or compete with someone else for your personal best. The word best is a plentiful word. It can mean the finest, the top, the greatest and the preeminent one. When you do your best to achieve everyday greatness you attempt to better your last time and work at taking the excellence just one incremental step higher. Each small step of excellence takes you further on the journey of leadership improvement.

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