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Pursuing Excellence and Enduring Relevance

In work, as in life, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important. Getting caught up in the game. Trying to look good by how we dress. Adding to conversations purely to show off our intelligence. Name dropping important people at just the right time. Adding some choice speculations to the rumour mill about who’s up to what.

But where does this lead us? A relentless focus on ourselves at the expense of our customers’ needs. Fear of taking risks lest we look bad. Over time, increased mediocrity and irrelevance. Ouch. Harsh maybe. But true. Ultimately, self promotion and politicking provide little value for our customers or our organisations.

It also gives us little satisfaction in our work. We’re not making a useful contribution or meaningful progress. We’re playing a game, not making a difference.

There are many values that lead to excellence and enduring relevance. These three are my favourite. Courage. Humility. Empathy.

Courage is about doing the important despite discomfort or fear. Taking calculated, yet uncomfortable risks. Asking the clarifying question at the risk of looking stupid. Standing up for those lower in the hierarchy to ensure everyone has a voice. It’s being bold in the pursuit of something meaningful.

Humility. As Zappos put it in their core values: “We before me.” This is not some kind of groveling insecurity. Humility is about acknowledging that we don’t, and we can’t, know everything. We need the input of others. We show respect for whoever is present and listen well. We’re open to the fact that we make assumptions that need to be tested and have biases that need to be checked.

Empathy calls us to ‘walk in someone else’s shoes’. Seeking to understand the experiences, thoughts and feelings of another person. The more we understand our customer*, the better we are at providing the products and services they need. Captain Obvious strikes again, I know! Yet the easier road is to act from our assumptions and wonder why our work doesn’t have impact.

*Customer defined in its broadest sense as the person benefiting from our work.

I like these three because they put our focus in the right place. On what helps humans flourish. Caring for others. Learning as much as we can. Taking responsibility and action. The same factors that lead to excellence.

So, as you go off to pursue excellence and enduring relevance consider these three questions:

What am I afraid to do that needs doing?

Who do I need to listen to and learn from today (someone I may have overlooked in the past)?

What could I do differently to better understand the feelings and experiences of someone else?

Doug Maarschalk is a trainer, facilitator and coach who uses the principles of intrinsic motivation as the foundation for his work. He has worked with New Zealand businesses in the horticulture, legal, accounting, financial services, real estate and healthcare sectors.
Read more about the Services Doug provides and the Clients he has worked with.

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