The root of the word Excellence is the phrase “to exceed”, or to go beyond the standard, to stand apart or to stand out. Other meanings are superiority, first class, eminently good.
Lifestyle implies a way of life – the habits, attitudes, tastes, moral standards of a person.
Therefore, a lifestyle of excellence speaks to exceeding as a way of life, going beyond the standard as a habit, having a first class attitude, having superior moral standards; as opposed to being an occasional visitor to the shrine of excellence. It speaks to a state of being – being an embodiment of all that is eminently good, a reflection and purveyor of high standards and a poster-child for excellent living.
Daniel 6:3 – 5 is the Scripture that identifies and enumerates all the qualities that made Daniel an excellent and exceptional personality. From that Scripture, we can note the following key phrases as marks of excellence against which to measure ourselves. Daniel:
- Distinguished himself
- Had exceptional qualities
- Had no corruption found in him
- Was trustworthy
- Was not negligent
- Had no basis for charges to be brought against him (except false ones)
Another Scripture we all love to default and allude to when praying for excellence, especially for our children, is Isaiah 11: 2 – 5. Again, the key words to note are:
- An excellent spirit is equated to possession of the Spirit of God – the Holy Spirit of:
- Power or Might
- Fear of the Lord
- That delights in the fear of the Lord
- Judges not by sight
- Thus gives righteous judgement
- Does not take decisions based on hearing alone
- Thus takes just decisions and delivers justice
- Faithfulness, not falsehood or treachery
If I had to choose a word to describe all these attributes, it would be the word, Wholesome. Wholesomeness suggests a general well-being, an equilibrium/balance between our soul, spirit and body.
An excellent lifestyle is a wholesome way of life. Years ago, the buzz word in management was Total Quality (TQ). In a sense, TQ can be applied to this idea of an all-encompassing pursuit of excellence in all facets of life. It is not limited to academic or career pursuits, not limited to spiritual activities, not restricted to home life. It requires excellence in:
- Your thoughts and speech
- Your conduct
- Your relationships
- Your appearance (dressing and comportment)
- Your vocation (academics, business, career)
- And above all, excellence in the things of the Spirit
But, let me narrow things down to the following four areas:
- Speech (and thoughts, by implication)
- Performance (work, home and all other life endeavours)
In all of these, note that Excellence is essentially mastery over your natural impulses, which is also equivalent to self-discipline.
Excellence in Speech
James 3:2 – Anyone who does not err in what they say is perfect (or excellent), able to keep their whole body in check.
Unwholesome speech is NOT limited to the use of four-letter words (curses and coarse language). Lies, innuendos, half-truths, gossips, whisperings, rumour-mongering, malicious statements, slander, unsubstantiated claims and accusations, and all sorts of ill-will delivered by the power of the tongue – all qualify as unwholesome speech. The question is this – where is the mark of excellence in the life of someone who spews such things?
David, another striver after excellence declared plaintively in Psalm 141:3, “God, put a guard over my mouth and a watch over the door of my lips”.
Excellence in your thoughts translates to responsible and wholesome speech. There are people all over the place, including sadly, in church, who do not filter their thoughts before they become speech. They allow every little thing that drops into their heads to pop out of their mouths – no filtering, no mastery of their impulses, no logical sorting of their thoughts or words, no demonstrated ability for critical thinking; they are essentially lazy thinkers. To call them infantile would be an insult to children everywhere. These are people who apply no rigour in their lives. Excellence demands rigour.
Bishop used to say, “You cannot stop a bird from perching on your head (can`t stop a thought from dropping into your mind) but you sure can stop it from building a nest there (you can stop a thought from festering and developing into speech).
If you constantly spew poison from your mouth, it is reflection of a poisonous thought life and a poisonous personality, and clear evidence of a lack of excellence in you. We are admonished by the apostle Paul to take every thought captive in obedience to Christ.
Why this emphasis on thought and speech? In the earlier Scripture reference, Apostle James said if we do not err in speech, we do not err at all. He was on to something. He was cognizant of what the writer of Proverbs said eons ago – As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. I will expand that to say, As a man thinketh in his heart, so he speaketh with his mouth and so is he.
Clean up your thought life and your speech and watch your life begin to transform into one of excellence.
Excellence in Performance
Let`s zero in on careers – it is often said, and rightly so, that it is the way you do someone else`s work that you would do yours, when the time comes. So this is also applicable to business endeavours.
- You must choose to be the best you can be. Don`t be in the middle of the pack, be at its head.
- Do more than enough to get by, commit to doing good work and going well beyond that which is just enough.
But note the following:
- Ability is not enough to get you to your destiny. Excellence is what gets you there.
- Excellence is not a skill but an attitude, a mind-set.
- Excellence is in the details; develop excellence in little matters and you develop an excellent, prevailing attitude.
- Excellence demands persistence, not a one-off effort.
- It is a process but measured by results. Gone is the era of A for effort – excellence now gets measured in real terms viz. exceptional outputs/outcomes.
- Excellence is a journey, perfection is the destination.
A quote by an IBM executive summarises this whole concept beautifully:
“There are countless ways of attaining greatness but any road to reaching ones maximum potential must be built on a bedrock of respect for individuals, a commitment to excellence and a rejection of mediocrity.“
Mediocrity is of course, ordinariness, second-rate ability, being average rather than being outstanding. And, every time you fail to choose excellence, mediocrity just shows up in its place by default. You do not have to consciously make mediocre choices to be a mediocre performer; failing to take the path of excellence would do it each and every time.
You will never attain to excellence with a poor attitude or bad character. How many times have you heard it said that ability or talent will get you to the top but it is character that keeps you there. I would even challenge that thought by stating that ability without character will no longer get you to the top.
From practical experience – while I am no expert on the subject, I do have a modest 23-year experience of having had the burden of managing peoples` performance through appraisals, promotion decisions and career development. Every career progression is marked by promotions – that is the way to climb the career ladder. Many Christians complain about being passed over for promotion, attributing it to a malicious boss, an unfair system or a spiritual problem. But I have found that most of us are our own worst enemies. While there are indeed the occasionally unfortunate cases of unmerited delays, those are the exception to the rule and are in fact, few and far between.
Many people are mediocre performers – just doing enough to get by, showing up and doing the minimum they can get away with and failing to address their competency gaps by developing their abilities and skills. Some actually believe they are doing a good job but have in fact set the bar too low for themselves thus consistently falling short of corporate or group expectations.
An exceptional performance requires you to meet deadlines, exceed targets and prove that you work for the organisation`s greater good.
Others who have ability and drive, have a very poor attitude.
In essence, brethren, you are not passed over or sidelined or discriminated against, you are simply not promotable. Why?
- Promotion demands the ability to perform and deliver at the next higher level;
- It requires a consistent track record of sustained good performance;
- It requires you to be able to expand your scope, capability and to take on more responsibility and;
- It implies that you are on track for a future leadership position (because if you keep climbing the career ladder, you will eventually get into leadership – in the event you do not exhibit necessary leadership qualities, your promotion will get stunted).
When you fail in any of these, you are not ready for a promotion, assuming the opportunity exists or a position opens up.
Now, still speaking of practical experience – in my current organisation (let`s assume that organisation is called TREM), there is a set of behaviours we call TREMWay behaviours and the bottom line is that you are expected not just to get results, but to get results the right way each and every time. What is interesting is how closely the list of behaviours aligns with the Isaiah 11 and Daniel 6 attributes of excellence – showing that Biblical principles still form the foundation of the best and most genuine secular pursuits.
Time and again, someone has been passed over for a promotion in spite of exceptional technical ability and performance because they have a bad attitude – they are said not to exhibit TREMWay behaviours and can therefore not be trusted with that next higher level appointment or assignment. It is concluded that they are well-placed at their current level – inevitably, a death knell for a promotion.
Such people are rude, disruptive, arrogant, refuse to play by corporate rules, are not good team players thus detracting from overall team performance, cannot get along with anyone, are contentious even when there is nothing to contend for – real rebels without a cause, can`t take or handle constructive feedback without taking it personal. Just generally impossible to work with without getting a headache. We call them High Maintenance and no one wants to work with them or supervise them, given the choice. Clearly, these are not marks of excellence or marks of a potential leader. And guess what happens when this sort is not promoted, they sulk and behave even worse; their performance suffers thus becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy of unpromotability.
The fact is that if you do excellent work naturally, intuitively and instinctively because you are committed to a life of excellence, even when you are seemingly not favoured or rewarded, you will still do excellent work by default, knowing that Excellence is its own reward.
And may I add that while in church, a bad attitude or a contentious character may be covered by grace, the laws of grace get suspended in the workplace unless God intervenes to activate them and even He expects His children to comport themselves as credible ambassadors of an excellent kingdom – He is not in the business of sponsoring or validating bad behaviour.
Excellence in Conduct
I think I might be stating the obvious when I talk about the need for excellence in our conduct. I am of the opinion that both Daniel 6 and Isaiah 11 summarise this concept very beautifully, with those lengthy lists of attributes. Again, I will default to the use of one word to capture the attributes that describe an excellent conduct. That word is Integrity.
What is Integrity? It is adherence to moral and ethical principles, soundness of moral character, uprightness, honesty, the state of being whole (see that word again?), being sound and unimpaired and being in perfect condition.
Judge for yourself whether or not you measure up or are even on the path to achieving excellence in your conduct.
Excellence in Leadership
As a leader, always choose excellence over popularity. In the short term, you may be unpopular or even disliked but over the longer term, you will earn respect as someone who rewards merit, is just and even-handed, committed to seeing those around him get better and is always willing to share the credit and the limelight, even if that respect is not universal. There will always be hold-outs; those who have signed on to a life of mediocrity will resent you for driving them too hard and will have nothing good to say about your style of leadership. But we can all take solace in the fact that our Lord who was perfect and sinless did not have universal acceptance either, not even among his closest associates, his team of twelve. Leadership is not a soap box for canvassing votes on popularity. It is first and foremost, a responsibility.
The moral authority of a leader to demand an excellent followership is his own personal commitment to excellence.
Every leader has been a follower once, therefore note that excellent followership is the foundation of your future leadership quality or the prerequisite to a future leadership marked by an exceptional standard.
A mediocre follower who by fair or foul means somehow eventually attains to leadership cannot go beyond the level of an even more mediocre leader. You cannot give what you do not have. What is more? As a leader, your shortcomings are even more glaring than when you were a mere follower. This is simply because you are going to wake up one day realising that you have been promoted beyond your competence. You may be able to talk the talk by bluffing (through the gift of gab) but if you cannot walk the talk, you will soon be found out. Examples abound both in the workplace and in church as witnessed by us all.
Now is the time to deal with the mediocrity inherent in your nature. And remember that Excellence is always a choice.
To tie all this together, because someone is liable to wonder how impossible the pursuit of excellence is – constantly seeking to excel in thoughts, speech, in conduct, in relationships, in business, in the workplace, as a mother, father, son, daughter and in the things of God.
This is precisely why it has to become a way of life. It is a lifestyle issue; just like sporadic dieting does not result in a healthy, nice physique, requiring that healthy eating becomes a lifestyle choice; so is anything that we intend to practice as second nature.
Excellence becomes who you are and what you are and it permeates every aspect of your life; without conscious effort of making individual choices in every circumstance over time. It would naturally colour your vision and all you do.
We are not Schizophrenics (with split personalities) –an angel in church and a monster out there; competent at work and slovenly at home. A lifestyle of excellence is a lifestyle of consistency. Every time we are faced with choices, let us determine to choose the path that leads to an excellent outcome until it becomes a habit. It is well worth the price.
One final word – no one is claiming a monopoly of knowledge or of excellence or suggesting that they are better than others or indeed that they have already attained to perfection in excellence. We, after all, are all works in progress. My job this morning is to provoke you to righteousness. It is however a fact that some of us have chosen this path and made a commitment to always pursue excellence, while recognising like Paul in Philippians 2:12- 14, that we should:
- Not be self-satisfied
- Press on or strain towards excellence
- Lay hold on excellence
- Forget the past because the good news is that you can start today on this journey
- Be focused on the goal and;
- Ultimately win the prize
May we receive the help of the Holy Spirit of God, the most excellent Spirit, to become all that God intended. And when we hit the finish line at the end of our journey, may we leave behind an enduring, positive impact in the lives of all we encounter and touch along that journey, and above all, may we be accepted by God. Amen.
Deaconess Obafunke Alade-Adeyefa writes from Lagos, Nigeria