Everyone wants to be great. But becoming, and more important staying truly great requires a tremendous amount of hard work. Today, Ignitia examines both what it takes to achieve, and to maintain a personal standard of excellence.

Excellence Requires a Relentless Pursuit

“If you knew how much work went into it, you wouldn’t call it genius.” -Michaelangelo

The first step toward achieving excellence is to relentlessly dedicate oneself to becoming excellent. True excellence is never achieved overnight. Rather it takes years, and oftentimes decades of dedicated work to achieve.  In her best-selling work Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, professor Angela Duckworth remarks, ‘there are no shortcuts to excellence.’ According to professor Duckworth, this dedication can be summed up as “grit”. Professor Duckworth describes the characteristic in this way, “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, and day out, not just for the week. Not just for the month. But for years. And working really hard to make that future a reality.”

Define What Excellence Means to You

“Nothing improves aim like a target.” -Aristotle

So, now that we know what it will take, let’s define our target of excellence. In order to achieve excellence, we must first become clear on what excellence means to us. This is much harder than it initially sounds, especially when trying to achieve excellence in a subjective field like art. If for example, excellence to you means scoring a perfect 10 in the Olympics on the gymnastic floor routine, or building a company that earns a billion dollar valuation, the quantitative nature of these goals define excellence for you easily. However, if excellence for you means becoming the greatest artist off all-time, then your target for excellence is harder to define. How then, in such cases, can we know when we have achieved excellence?

You Know It When You See it

In such cases, excellence is more of a sense than a certainty. It is a feeling that what you are doing is absolutely correct. A feeling that your work is near flawless. And in re-examination, a sense of admiration for the work is felt more than the feeling any correction should be made to the work. Excellence at this level is more of a sense that things are just going right. Again, it takes relentless effort to achieve this level of work, however once it is achieved, you will instinctually know you are there. 

How to Maintain a Standard of Excellence

‘Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.’ -Steve Jobs

Once excellence is achieved, it is then your responsibility to maintain this level. Often times this can be as difficult as achieving excellence in the first place. This is especially true when seen through the context of running a company where other people’s efforts are required to maintain this standard. In such cases, it will be your responsibility to lead by example. If excellence is to be maintained over the long run it must be a relentless, daily routine. Not meeting this standard must be unacceptable.

As much as you may want to tell your employees their efforts are ‘good enough’, you cannot allow anything to diminish your established exacting standard. This rigorous adherence to your own standard may cause many of your employees to consider you harshly as they may feel you are being unreasonable in asking them do-and-redo a project many times over until it reaches your standards. However, if you’ve created an environment where it is known from the outset that excellence is the only standard and you have already delivered results based on these standards, they will be much more willing to trust that the outcomes will justify the challenging process.

Developing a Culture of Excellence

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

Once a standard of excellence is established, maintaining this standard then becomes a matter of establishing a culture of excellence. This is done by relentlessly adhering to consistent habits of maintaining excellence, and not settling for anything less than this standard. If you and your company achieve this level of day-in-day-out excellence, such that excellence becomes a habit, then you will be operating at your highest level and the results will be the best you can hope to achieve.