All of us admire excellence. We seek models of excellence. We want to be connected with them. We seek leadership in strong people whose achievements resemble what we think could or should be the excellence in ourselves. We (at least most of the time) try to act in ways we think will provide excellent outcomes. We know it is admirable to pursue excellence.

But what is this thing we`re pursuing? Where is it? What routes do we take to attain it? How do we recognize it, this “excellence”?

“Excellence” is not a measurable item, but an abstract concept. It is not an end in itself. It is a value we assign to a product of an action or series of actions, a metaphor for the cumulative result of a process by which we reach admirable personal or organizational goals. When we say that someone or something is excellent, we are really celebrating or recognizing a successful process of becoming, for lack of a better word, excellent!

We see virtue in a good stop of a fire, in an effective company training program, in a distinguished fire service career. We call them “excellent”; it`s the best description we have for them. But the term is relative and vague. We are really saying that we appreciate the series of steps ending in a point that is a manifestation of what we call “excellence.” That destination is a symbol for all that went into it. Though we honor the result, it is no more or less important than how it came to be. The result is part of the process. The result and the process are the same thing!

It is this process–that pushes us forward, that leads to real accomplishments–that is the essence of excellence. It is the process that really matters because if the process works in totality, excellence follows. I call the process “the mechanics of excellence.” Achievement lies in successfully practicing the mechanics of excellence, not in chasing an elusive metaphor.

The mechanics of excellence are

(1) find the vision,

(2) commit to the vision,

(3) define the vision, and

(4) implement the vision.

Sounds simple, but it`s easier said than done. Many well-intentioned enterprises have been waylaid because they failed in one or more of the four basic steps.

What is your vision? Where are your dreams? Are you a person who, or are you involved in an organization that, dares to dream? Nothing excellent has ever been accomplished without vision.

Do you believe that “vision nurturing” has no place in the fire service next to practical training? Do you believe the quality of dreams is a function of rank or “curriculum vitae”? Do you attach a price tag to dreams? Do you find yourself thinking, “It`s too late for that now; we`ve gone too far”? Are you steered away from dreams by so-called experts? Are you afraid of your dreams because they may be too risky? Do you see dream fulfillment as an adversity rather than an opportunity? Do you keep your dreams to yourself? If you answer yes to one or all of these questions, you or your organization will have a difficult time on the road to excellence.

Have you made a real commitment to the dream, once you`ve found it? That may mean getting a few doors slammed in your face. It may mean sacrificing some things you love to do. It will mean sticking to it, in the face of major odds. Are you ready for that challenge?

Have you defined the vision? Vision is worthless without a clear plan with clear objectives, definable goals. Be specific. What do you expect to accomplish? Write it all out. Do expected outcomes jibe with your ultimate vision? Have you defined and refined your plans such that you will likely meet your goal, or are your efforts a fruitless exercise in plan-writing? How will you implement the plan, specifically? Prepare, refine. Bounce your ideas off your closest friends. Refine some more. Draft 1, 2, 3, and 4. Back to the drawing board. No one will buy in to your dream without understanding the intent and the mechanisms, in plain English. They cannot buy in to it if your goals are not defined in quantifiable expected outcomes.

Who owns the dream? Will you share it with the organization or keep it to yourself? Selfishness cannot be a part of the excellence equation. Implementing the vision requires that all players feel a sense of ownership in the process–the fancy term used nowadays is “empowerment.” Are the other players empowered to the extent that they will buy in to a team commitment? Organizational excellence is not a one- or two-man show. All must own the dream and work to make it a reality. Are all your resources in place? If not, go back to step three! Persistence, tirelessness, meticulous teamwork!

The mechanics of excellence are a challenge. But how else are you to get to a magic moment that speaks “excellence”? Find the vision, commit to the vision, define the vision, implement the vision. The successful organization, the successful person, has learned the “secret” of the process–the mechanics of excellence. They are so good at it that the mechanics have become for them second nature. They have made the mechanics a way of life. That`s why and how they consistently achieve excellence.

It`s not easy. Nothing good is. We know we will fail many more times than we will be recognized for achieving excellence. It`s all right: We`re human. Keep the faith, stop chasing wildly for an elusive metaphor, and bring excellence into your process. By practicing the mechanics, excellence must and will follow.


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