Learning from Excellence

We recognize excellence when we see it, even if the subject is one we do not know well.  Leaders can learn from those whose excellence is obvious to the beholder.

I do not play tennis.  Other than a college course for cheap credit more years ago than I want to admit, I have hardly ever held a racquet.  I know the rules well enough to be able to follow what is happening- so I would not qualify as an aficionado, much less a fan.  But the men’s final at Wimbledon last week was so compelling, I could hardly turn away.

I believe that we know excellence when we see it, whether on Centre Court, in a kitchen, in a classroom or in a conference room.  Recognizing true mastery of anything requires no knowledge or technical understanding of the activity.  And that is what makes it amazing.  It also makes it a development opportunity for leaders.

One of the most important traits for leaders in the 21st century is a focus on personal learning.  And one way to do that is to recognize and assess excellence wherever you find it.  Most of us are not likely to play the level of tennis that even the ball boys and girls at Wimbledon play; yet, there was a lot to learn watching Federer and Nadal.  Focus, self management, adroit use of skills, self control, pacing, mental toughness and even gentlemanly discourse after the match were all demonstrations of human potential.

Leaders who desire to continue to learn how to get better, sharper and more focused learn a lot by watching anyone with mastery of any skill or process.  Observe for the mastery.  Evaluate what attributes help develop that level of capacity, and what you would apply those attributes to as a leader.  It does not require the drama of a Centre Court battle to show mastery.  There are those who inspire and teach by their presence and skill at communication, collaboration, clear planning, courageous candor and inspiration.

Allow yourself to be awed by one of those people and ask how their discipline, craft, talent and dedication might impact your own leadership.