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Sudhakar I. Prabu


Leadership Coach, Leadership Development Consultant, Performance Improvement Consultant

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How to achieve professional excellence?


The worst is over and the economic recovery has just started. Though things doesn't look too bad, it is not good either. One can easily scene the tension in the air. From an executive's perspective, things are pretty competitive. If you don't have job , have to find one sooner than later or if you have one got to keep it as long as possible and get ahead. It is apparent that only the fittest survive in these times. If you are an executive you know very well, if there is any time one has to raise to the occasion and perform to the optimum, the time is now.

In a time like this, for that matter anytime, good is no longer good enough. These days almost every executive you meet is trying to be good or if they are in the midst of many good executives have to be better than the good ones. The question is are you trying to be one more in the category of good or want to stand alone above the rest? Which means it is not about just being yet another in the same level, but it is about raising above the rest. If an executive wants to make a difference, one has to surpass being good and have to become great. Achieving greatness is what achieving excellence is.

Number of executives I meet these days ask me, “is there is any one or few things I can do to find the edge so as to move from being good to great. Well, they did not address the question exactly in the way I have framed it, but all of them was some what related to this question. If you are also a concerned business executive may have a similar question. So, what can we do in times likes these to get ahead and get to the top of the game?

When people ask such question to me, in a way it bother me, for they assume the way to greatness is so simple that can be summarized easily and based on some quick fix solutions. It is proven time and again that the quick fix solutions may show temporary results, but they do not last long. Quick fix solutions only introduce changes at the peripherals, not a deep rooted change that last long.

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Performance not to be measured in comparative terms:

More often I have seen executives measure how good they are in comparison to others who are also being measured. If I can be better than him or her then I am doing good. Well, it does matter how good an executive's is viewed in comparison to others, it may only be good for making one feel good about themselves not for finding an edge that can lead to achieving excellence, moving from being good to great. The reason why performance and greatness must not be measured in comparison to others is because it is subjective to how good or worst others are. What is the use of being an average performer among many poor performers.

Performance need to be measurement based on standards, personal and organizational goals, and how effective an executive is in meeting those standards and goals. Finding an edge is about how one can effectively and efficiently achieve the goals while adhering to the performance standards. This is when quality and quantity is maintained. Performance should not focus either on quantity alone (achieving goals) or quality alone (adhering to performance standards), it must be a combination of both quality and quantity. This is when an executive moves from ineffectiveness to effectiveness, being ordinary to extraordinary, being good to great, and achieving excellence.

Finding the edge is about finding the invisible things:

Finding the edge that would result in excellence, becoming great, is about finding the invisible things that are at work in the life of an executive. They are about who we are as a person that determines what we do. It is not about working out the most visible things that any one can spot. I think the reason why not every one is able to achieve excellence is precisely is this reason, they are not so visible enough yet they are so significant. The most important things that are vital for achieving excellence are invisible to the necked eye.

I have noticed an executive who want to achieve excellence, wants to move from being good to great, focus on upgrading knowledge, skills, and technology, etc . Many I have met believe they will give them the shortcuts to excellence. I do not agree, I had to often confront such thinking. Well, I do not underestimate the importance of them in producing superior performance. They are like tools in the hands of crafts man, they are very important, However, more important is how these tools are being used rather than the tools themselves.

I have come across some excellent performers, they are outstanding not because they know everything, but because they know how to make the best use of their knowledge, skills, or technology. I must emphasis knowledge and skills must be continually improvised, else it will be outdated. I am here to focus on the inviable things that can make the difference, the things that can give an edge to move from being good to great, achieve excellence.

Finding an edge is about able to choose to shape the most important yet invisible things that can make difference in the life of an executive. Long lasting excellence can not be guaranteed to an executive who works on visible things such as knowledge, skills, and technology.

Three keys that can unlock excellence:

Vision, Values, Character are the three important invisible keys that can unlock excellence in the life of an executive. These things are unique to each executive that can guarantee the edge that can lead to lasting excellence. These three factors are invisible, these are about who we are as a person, as an executives, and they determine what we do and how we do.

Unfortunately many executives take these important keys for granted. Those who take these for granted just use them as a mere meaningless statement that meant nothing more than a cleaver PR stunt. It is something they use as a clamor to attract others towards them. Often those who take these keys for granted forget it is some what easy to create a good first impression, holding on to it is all together is a different matter.

These invisible things (vision, values, and character) are different from visible things (Knowledge, skills, and technology) because invisible things are unique to an executive compared to the visible things which can be found in any one in the same rank. Take an example, many graduates pass out from a collage learning the same subjects, yet only few make it to the top of the organizational leader. They all had given same knowledge and acquired skills using same process, Analise them and you will definitely find out that those who have managed to reach to the top have learned to work out the most invisible things that we are discussing here.

Exploring and establishing vision, values, and characters are not like purchasing an expensive article in a super market, you make a payment and it belongs to you now. Process of exploring these key factors in a life of an executive would make one uncomfortable and question lot of things that were accepted and established as routine for long time. The discovery process will threaten the safety and challenge you to venture into the territories one has never even dreamed about. This discovering and establishing process is in some way evoke an intense guilt for it will point out how wrong one has been in the past and how much of resources and life has been spend on doing nothing or meaninglessly. Though this discovering process is uncomfortable and emotionally intense, the rewards are the one we seek, achieving excellence.

How to make the best use of one's abilities?

An executive's abilities, knowledge and skills are best used when they are driven by vision, values and character. It is understandable that tools alone are not capable of producing outcomes, they must be used properly. Vision, Values, and Character determine how abilities, knowledge, skills, and technologies are to be used to the optimum.

Imagine you have a Ferrari car, it is powerful and fast. What will happen you have nowhere else to go. What will happen if you don't know how to operate the car to the optimum level when required and how to keep it in limit according to traffic rules on road? What if you just have the body and the engine is blown off? Performance of an executive would look some what similar when they lack vision, values, and character.

Abilities, knowledge and skills are like good tools, unless they are not directed by vision, governed by values and powered by character, they are not likely to be used to the optimum level. Vision gives the direction in which one's abilities are to be used in order to move ahead. Values govern choices and behaviors of an executive while the goals are being pursued. Character that powers an executive to persevere in their pursuit.

To answer the question how to make the best use of one's abilities, knowledge, and skills? First, Perceive a vision that can clear direction in which one must go. Second, Establish a clear values system that governs decisions and behavior during the course of journey. Third, Power your performance with character that perseveres no matter what happens. If the above three work in the life of an executive I am sure there is no reason why one cannot achieve excellence.

Follow a clear direction?

Vision gives clear destination and based on the destination enables an executive to figure out the direction one must go towards. An executive can go only as far as their visions can go. The clearer and larger an executives vision is the easier it is for them to fully focus on the vision. When an executive has focused on the goals that eventually leads to the vision, they will be more likely to be highly motivated, have higher level of committed to the goals, and willing to give cent percent.

An executive who has clear goals lives a purposeful and fulfilling life. The closer they get to the goals they more they are pleased, will have sense of meaningful contribution and accomplishment. Executive who doesn't have a clear vision are like nomad and wonderer, like running in circles. They start and return to the same point. They have no idea of wherever they have to go and when to reach, they are likely to settle with whatever is on their way.

Every executive must ask themselves, why am I doing what am I doing? An executive must constantly remand one's self why they do what they are doing. An executive may begin to feel meaninglessness and purposelessness even though is making full use of one's expertise when why they do is not congruent with their vision. In such case an executive is preoccupied with activities that are no longer taking them forward.

Perceiving a vision is an ongoing process. A vision must be constantly evaluated and redefined. Redefining process will enable an executives to to navigate when their direction is clear and remain rel relevant to the environment in which one is operating. What is the use of having a vision that is irreverent to the immediate and extended context in which an executive is operating, in such case the vision itself has become meaningless and insignificant.

The Value of Values:

Values are the governing principles that set personal and professional standards for decision making and behavior. Self-respect of an executive is closely linked to the kind of values an executive stands for and lives by. When delegate tools like knowledge and skills, power and influence, are governed by the right set of values that result in making right decisions and appropriate behaviors would produce praiseworthy performance outcomes. When this happens an executive will know they have got hold of what they been trying for – finding an edge to achieve excellence.

Take an example of two people. In my opinion both of them are knowledgeable and skillful in their own ways. Only difference is one ins held high as prise and pride of the nation and the other is condemned and is on the run. The former one is Dr. Abdul Kalam, used his skills and knowledge in a way that produced results that are praiseworthy and made him to be the pride of the nation. The other is Bil laden, a terrorist who is on the run. What made difference is their value system. Earlier one had a value system that is constructive and focus on nation building and the later one was focused on destructive and undesirable.

Power of your character:

Character is the core of a person and it is being expressed through thoughts and actions. Character is about personal qualities of an executive such as loving, confident, courageous, confident, consistent, and many other qualities that drive one's performance.

What we really admire in those who are successful is that the way they have demonstrated their character, personal qualities, and made optimum use of their abilities and expertise. Because expertise alone can not produce results, expertise need a powerful character that can push irrespective of opposition. I am amazed at the display of determination, courage, confidence, endurance, perseverance, and passion. These are the things, with many other, that form the character. It is character that determines why some can endure longer and some quit easily?

Power your performance with character. Studies do confirm that executives who are lesser capable and equipped have achieved more then those were more equipped and capable. If there is one thing that could have made the difference between the two it must be the character.

Performance of a timid and impatient executive will be seen in the outcome they produce in comparison to an executive who is loving, courageous, confident and the likes. The reason why some executives live an average life is because they are more comfortable with complacency.

An executive having the right qualities in their character has power that is capable of accomplishing set goals. They are capable of enduring suffering, overcoming odds, and triumph against all obstacles. Can you imagine what will happen to you with all the expertise you have and powered by the character? You will be unstoppable.

Synergistic effects:

What is the use of having a clearly defined vision and and a good value system but an executive is a quitter, can not withstand pressure, face obstacles, overcome challenges, persevere and triumph? What is the use having a clearly defined vision, but lack the power of character and value system that is most effective? What is the use of having the power of character and clearly defined vision without having the right value system?

I discovered, vision without values and character, values without vision and character, and character without vision and values are of no use. They may have some impact in a life of an executive, but they may not have profound impact. When these factors work alone, excellence is sporadic, not consistent.

An executive must put these three aspects together – Vision, values, and Character – to work simultaneously that work in an interdependent manner rather than individually. When vision, values, and character begins to make use of expertise of an executive they will have an edge that will surly lead them to move from being good to great, achieve excellence.

Vision, values, and character are the key factors that can give you the edge that can definitely lead you to personal and professional excellence. It is needless to say that expertise, skills and knowledge, alone can not enable an executive to achieve excellence, though they are import in themselves.

If you are an executive want to be on top of your game, want to have an edge that can guarantee excellence, want to be the best in what you are doing, want to be the fittest that can survive the test of time then all you need to do is to have vision that can give you clear direction, establish a value system that will govern your choices and behavior, and power your performance with character. If you do this you will be unstoppable and will become one of the best in the business.

Author Profile Picture
Sudhakar I. Prabu

Leadership Coach, Leadership Development Consultant, Performance Improvement Consultant

Read more from Sudhakar I. Prabu

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