Triple Crown Leadership

Triple Crown Leadership

Leadership and the Quest for Excellence

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Getting results is one of the preeminent tasks of leadership. “The world is not interested in the storms you encountered,” says Norman Augustine, the aerospace businessman and former U.S. Army official, “but in whether or not you brought the ship in safely.” Perhaps he took his cue from Winston Churchill. When asked about the Allies’ aim in World War II, he replied, “I can answer in one word. It is victory.”

Exemplars can be found in different domains. We associate excellence in leadership development with General Electric and its famous Crotonville training programs. We associate excellence in brand management with Procter & Gamble. Among hospitals the standard of excellence is set at places like Johns Hopkins, Massachusetts General, and Mayo Clinic.

It’s a fair question today to ask whether achieving excellence is getting harder. Is there a ratchet effect of higher standards over time? Look at the continual smashing of world records in sports. Author Daniel Goleman points out that the marathon gold medalist’s time in the 1896 Olympic Games was “only about as good as the qualifying time for the Boston Marathon” in 1990. In 2004, according to author Geoff Colvin in Talent Is Overrated, a 74 year-old man ran a marathon with a time that was four minutes faster than the gold medal performance in the 1896 Olympics. He concludes: “the Olympic records of a hundred years ago… today in many cases equal ho-hum performances by high schoolers.” He cites numerous examples, from mathematics to diving, sprinting, music, and chess. It will be interesting to watch what happens in London this summer.

That leaders must get results is not controversial. But what we call “triple crown leadership” seeks not just any results, but excellent results—compelling and exceptional outcomes. It strives for the pinnacle of performance.

One of the problems today is an overly narrow focus on results for shareholders (and with a very short time horizon). When assessing results, it is essential to consider the ethics imperative, as well as social impact and sustainability. Triple crown leadership—the kind that builds excellent, ethical, and enduring organizations—seeks outstanding financial performance and positive social impact. It’s a new standard, a higher one, and leading organizations around the world are pursuing it in a noble quest, as we describe in Triple Crown Leadership.

Not convinced? Don’t just take our word for it. Check in with Rosabeth Moss Kanter, who shows how “vanguard companies” can create innovation, profits, growth, and social good (SuperCorp). Check in with Aron Cramer and Zachary Karabell, who make a case for Sustainable Excellence as the future of business in today’s fast-changing world. Check in with Michael Beer and his co-authors in showing how great leaders can create economic and social value (Higher Ambition). Check in with James O’Toole and Don Mayer, editors of Good Business: Exercising Effective and Ethical Leadership. Check in with Jeffrey Hollender and Bill Breen and their Responsibility Revolution. The case for higher standards of leadership and excellence—encompassing the results imperative but also ethics, sustainability, and impact—is becoming a crescendo.

Leaders should embrace this new higher standard of excellence—and pursue it with abandon.

-Bob & Gregg Vanourek, the triple crown leaders
Twitter: @TripleCrownLead


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3 thoughts on “Leadership and the Quest for Excellence

  1. You can certainly see your enthusiasm in the work you write. The world hopes for even more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to say how they believe. At all times go after your heart.

    • I agree with Matt and Carole the best language fit is ipntroamt for the participants to take something from the session. If the title of leadership competencies is off putting to the participants (I have found this in some sessions I have taken) I would ask the group what would best describe these types of behaviours in your organisation . They may decide to call these attributes problem solving skills . It is down to the common language of the organisaiton and it is best prior to the session to talk to the sponsor about this to gain an understanding. If people feel uncomfortable or intimidated they are less likely to participate. I like to give participants a list of the competencies/skills to select from if they would like to do so at the beginning of the session. Making sure that the list also reflects their language is helpful. It’s all about getting them to take part so the can experience the benefits.At the beginning of the session it is ipntroamt to explain to the participants that focusing on one of these skills during the session will help solidify the learning and that they will get a lot more out of the session. Most people will find themselves in leadership type situations everyday without even knowing this so it might be helpful to put the quesiton out to the group can any of you describe a time where you were in a leadership type of situation . This may help them to look beyond their current role at work.

  2. There seem to a few things to cover here Firstly, there is a whole cooaersvtinn to be had about who is a leader and the fact that everyone needs to be a leader from time to time but unless this is a group with which I have worked on a number of sessions in the past, this is probably not the time to to deal with this. Instead, I would be more pragmatic and try to give short quick reasons why it is still important to talk about the leadership competencies.The most straightforward one for me is to explain that focusing on leadership competencies during the action learning session helps us to be be more effective as a group. By choosing to work on specific aspects of our behaviour during the discussion, we will improve our own individual performance which will have the net effect of helping us to work more effectively as a group. I would also stress that because we will all be listening for examples of how other group members are performing against their leadership competencies, it will improve our listening skills and help us to be more constructive and supportive of one another.If it feels like the term leadership competency’ is too loaded then I think you could re-position the term as being an interpersonal work competency’. Later on at the end of the session (or when the group next meets and after having had a chat with the sponsor) you could highlight the competencies and use the opportunity to ask questions that help the group understand how those competencies link to leadership and how leadership links to their role.

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