Getting results is one of the preeminent tasks of leadership.
What we call “triple crown leadership” (from our book of the same name) seeks not just any results, but excellent results—exceptional outcomes. It strives for the pinnacle of performance. (Our “triple crown leadership” model has three aims: excellent, ethical, and enduring. Leaders should begin with this question: what kind of leadership does it take to build an organization that is excellent, ethical, and enduring?)
Without strong results, you’re unlikely to remain a leader for long.
Beacons of Excellence
In different fields, there are beacons of excellence. For advanced military missions, we look to the Special Forces. For integrated health care, education, and research, the Mayo Clinic. For family entertainment and inspiration, the Walt Disney Company. For spreading changemaking ideas, TED. For brand management, Procter & Gamble. For innovations that push the world toward sustainable energy, Tesla. For inspired product design, Apple.
At Apple, the standard for products and services is “insanely great.” Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs advised: “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” Jony Ive, former Chief Design Officer at Apple, recalls, “We did it because we cared, because when you realize how well you can make something, falling short, whether seen or not, feels like failure.”
Ensuring clarity about ultimate aims and measures of success may sound obvious, but it’s not always straightforward. One of the problems in business today is an overly narrow focus on results for shareholders (and with a very short time horizon). When assessing results, it’s essential to consider multiple stakeholders, including employees, customers, suppliers, communities, and society, looking at impacts on people and natural resources.
Triple crown leadership seeks outstanding financial performance and positive social impact.
Aspiring to excellent results and impacts is the first leg of the triple crown quest. But then the question arises: how are they achieved? (Stay tuned for the next blog, and check out our book, Triple Crown Leadership, to learn the five advanced leadership practices that help you build excellent, ethical, and enduring organizations and teams…)
Postscript: Quotes on How to Achieve Excellence
- “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit…. Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts…. Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives—choice, not chance, determines your destiny.” –Aristotle, classical Greek philosopher
- “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” –Vince Lombardi, legendary football coach
- “Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal—a commitment to excellence—that will enable you to attain the success you seek.” –Mario Andretti, Italian-born American car racing legend
- “Excellence means when a man or woman asks of himself more than others do.” –Jose Ortega y Gasset, Spanish philosopher and essayist
- “Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.” –Pat Riley, legendary former NBA basketball coach and player
- “If you want to achieve excellence, you can get there today. As of this second, quit doing less-than-excellent work.” –Thomas J. Watson, former chair and CEO of IBM
Gregg Vanourek and Bob Vanourek are leadership practitioners, teachers, trainers, and award-winning authors. This blog draws on a book they co-wrote, Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards, and called “the best book on leadership since Good to Great”), based on extensive research and practice, and their interviews with leaders in 61 organizations in 11 countries. Check out Gregg’s new online course on “Crafting Your Life and Work” (limited time only), and his manifesto on Leadership Derailers (and how to avoid them).