What Is Excellence To You?

by John Spence on · 15 comments

Several years ago a client asked me to deliver a speech on "The Essence of Excellence." I won't drag you through the entire process, but I spent weeks re-reading books from my library, calling CEOs and college/university Presidents and asking everyone I could get to talk to: What is excellence to you?

In the end it came down to three key watchwords…

FOCUS: To be truly excellent at anything you must have an incredibly clear definition of what excellence is to you, what it will look like in your life and how you will measure it. I call this your "Personal Philosophy of Excellence." Once you have thoughtfully created your own personal philosophy of excellence you must then focus on it intensely, day in and day out, always keeping a clear picture of specifically what you must do to achieve the level of excellence you honestly want in your life.

DISCIPLINE: Once you have determined what excellence looks like to you and created a plan to move your life in that direction, you must then exhibit a level of discipline that most people are unwilling to put forth. Lots of people talk about excellence, many say they want to be more effective, successful, happier, more joyful… but is the rare person who applies consistent discipline in order to turn their plan… into reality.

ACTION: The amount of success you achieve in your life is directly proportional to the amount of action you apply to staying disciplined around your personal philosophy of excellence. Not quite clear on what excellence and success looks like to you? Or, you know exactly what you want but you're not very disciplined about pursuing it? Or perhaps you really understand what level of excellence you want to achieve, and you're very disciplined, but you just don't apply much action to your philosophy? The outcome is mediocrity, and we have a saying in my firm: " The minute you start accepting mediocrity in your life, you become a magnet for mediocrity in your life."

The truth is; the process to achieve excellence is not that complicated if you simply apply focus, discipline and massive action. Of course, the same could be said for winning an Olympic gold medal in the 100 yard dash; Run really fast – faster than everyone else!

by John Spence

John Spence is the author of "Awesomely Simple - Essential Business Strategies for Turning Ideas into Action." He is an award-winning professional speaker and corporate trainer, and has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Business Thought Leaders in America.
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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Noel January 7, 2012 at 8:52 am

Hi John, that’s very brilliant to boil down the secrets of excellence/success to 3 main ingredients – focus, discipline and action. No complicated rocket science philosophy blah blah blah… but just focus your goal and go all out for it. Love it!
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sheila January 8, 2012 at 6:45 am

Gosh! This is so true. And good! The whole quote about medi­oc­rity… wow. That’s dead on. Love this post. Love.
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Jean Sampson January 8, 2012 at 7:45 am

Hi John. That is a brilliant reply and dead on. To expand on the process, though, I think you have to have a lot of ways to support yourself when whatever you do does not work or, at least, does not lead to the result you were expecting or aiming for. I guess this would come under the heading of discipline—-to not give up when things do not go as expected, but keep on re-evaluating, thinking, talking to others who are ahead of you on the path. Try many things and keep thinking, stay out of negative self-talk. Surround yourself with examples of people who “failed” many times on the path to success. I teach a painting class in which the main lesson is to never give up, to count each “failure” as the underpainting that will enhance the final painting. I tell the students that the only way they can fail my class is if they throw their canvas into the dumpster!


Steven | The Emotion Machine January 8, 2012 at 10:55 am

Very simple and down-to-earth summary of excellence. I agree with your break-down, although I may add “Values” in there somewhere, because I think a lot of people make a huge mistake by not reflecting on what really matters to them.
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Tim January 8, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Hi John:

Nice post…I liked the key watch words you provided here. They are good guideposts for us to focus on as we conduct ourselves both personally and professionally. Related to your post (but separate), Tom Peters just put together a huge slide presentation and new website about excellence and I know that Tom co-wrote a book more than 20 years ago on the topic. But I really like how you boil this excellence down to three words. Thanks for sharing your insights!
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Emilia January 9, 2012 at 6:49 am

Some people seem to achive excelence without any efforts (this is at least what we see/think/believe seeing them from the outside), but the truth is that they do work on it a h*ll of a lot too. On the other han, the level of excelence can vary between people too, some strive higher than others. Great, thought-provoking post!


Cathy | Treatment Talk January 9, 2012 at 8:05 am

Hi John,

Great definition of excellence – focus, disciple and action. It is an individual concept, as it is difficult to be excellent at everything. Putting in 100% effort makes a difference, hours of practice and hard work. Not giving up comes into play as well. We all can get discouraged, but continuing on can lead to excellence.
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Cindy January 9, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Such a nice summary of the excellence! And I totally agree, it is one thing to define the excellence, but it is another thing to reach it! And it is the hardest way…
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Be January 10, 2012 at 3:22 am

A great post John .. concise and to the point. I think excellence is so much more attainable as a concept for people than perfection – which is impossible. Thank you for sharing
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Jen January 21, 2012 at 10:57 am

An excellent post!!

I love the three ingredients, and haven’t seen them put together in that way. So true about what we expect, we get. For myself, I will strive more for mixing up those ingredients to choose and achieve the excellence I expect in certain areas of my life…all the while keeping it real:)
Thanks John!
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Andrew Walker March 8, 2012 at 10:29 am

Hi John. Thanks a lot for sharing this. I think for me, excellence is like when you can get something you really wanted, with a very hard effort,then you can achieve it in the end.
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Rebekah July 13, 2012 at 4:41 am

Excellence is achievable, and is possible and I am determined to practice this principles you’ve itemized here, it is simple and I can do it.


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