What does it mean to be excellent?

I write frequently about the idea of excellence. Throughout my book Embracing Followership, I emphasize that what we’re after is excellent followership—not mere followership, or mediocre followership, or satisfactory followership. Excellent.

Let’s consider for a moment this idea of excellence.

At its root, there is certainly the meaning of ‘to excel’…and I’m indeed a big fan of the Microsoft spreadsheet program!  Excelling…to surpass, to move out beyond the norm and into the lofty levels of quality and proficiency.

Embedded in the idea of excellence is a notion of standards: there is that which is normal, common, expected, and acceptable. And then there is the realm beyond.

One of the key points that I advocate for in regards to facilitating excellent followership is the clarifying of expectations. As followers, we need to have a sense of the obligations and opportunities that are wrapped up in our particular roles. We need to have clarity about the various facets of our role; our organization’s aims, structure, and means; and also the nature of our relationships with our peers and superiors. What are the communication channels, what’s the language we use, and how do we cooperate?

There must be standards if we are to excel.

The trick is, we can often fall into highlighting the wrong kinds of standards. Within many spheres of our lives, we are quick to point to a vague notion of success as defining our expectations for ourselves and for one another. Metrics of profit, growth, production, dollars raised, membership rolls, or cookies baked creep in and are presented as the definition of excellence.

Certainly, all organizations should have a purpose, should be pursuing specific aims together. But when metrics of success become standards of excellence then we actually do ourselves harm organizationally. Success is almost always inherently comparative in nature. One member is more successful than another, and we know this because we can look at their respective numbers and see who is ‘better’.

If success is comparative, and if success is the foundation of excellence, then we are (perhaps unintentionally) restricting excellent contribution to only a small segment of our group membership: those that outperform the others. Rather than measuring against our individual roles, opportunities, capacity, and potential, the standard becomes someone else: someone else’s role, contribution, position, and ability.

We can never be an excellent organization if only a small portion of our membership can be seen as excellent. That doesn’t mean lowering expectations so that everyone can easily make the grade and we all feel good about ourselves. Rather, it means creating an organizational culture and structure where it is possible for each person to embrace excellence because excellence is not comparative or competitive.

Excellence requires engagement, energy, competence, contribution–and these things must be aimed at both personal and organizational goals: not as darts used to strike down our colleagues so that we can speed ahead.

Dr Eugene Habecker says it well, “the pursuit of excellence must encompass goals pertaining to both individual and organizational character qualities” (see The Other Side of Leadership, Chap 10).

True excellence is a statement of quality, a reflection on the inner workings of a person and the group. Are our relationships functioning at a level that’s to-be-expected, or have they moved beyond into a more solid realm of interaction, trust, communication, openness, appreciation, and collaboration? Are our vacuous, selfish agendas being achieved, or is our organization committed to and effectively pursuing an excellent purpose that makes a positive contribution?

How about you: are you pursuing success or excellence? What is the foundation for the standards that you’re aiming at? What characterizes your personal contributions and your organization’s ethos?

Is it excellence?


For encouragement and guidance in understanding and applying yourself to following with excellence and helping others to do the same, see:

EmbracingFollowership_CoverTextureEmbracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture (by Allen Hamlin Jr; Kirkdale Press, Feb 2016)

Find other recommendations for various aspects of followership on our Resources page.

Links to other posts on this site: Blog Post Index



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