The Excellence Delusion

Excellence is a great message and it is preached and taught a lot these days. We even have conferences about it but in the struggle to reach what we believe to be excellence, it seems many of us have misunderstood the concept. Many are trying to reach the top and it matters very little how. The dictionary definition of the word excellence itself; the quality of being outstanding or extremely good, can be misleading as much as it can be revealing. Having spoken to a few people on the matter, from my perspective as a performance coach, it is even clearer that we could really be misunderstanding the idea. I am calling it an idea for a reason as it gives us a chance to explore it further. It is my hope that this article will help us rethink what excellence really is and how it relates to peak performance. Peak performance is about being the best that is possible for one to be– excellent or perhaps extremely good.

Often we reward individuals for an excellent job done. We tend to think that because they provided us with a great product or service or perhaps because they are at the top, they have excelled in their field and therefore deserve to be labeled excellent. Well, here is something to think about: A person who excelled in their field is not necessarily a good thing unless it is linked to their overall usefulness to humanity. This means uniting both parts of the dictionary definition into one force so that you have thorough positivity.

Hitler (wicked as he was)in many ways was an outstanding person who excelled very well in the arts of genocide and crude eugenics, if I may dare to use such an illustration. By many people’s standard of excellence, he was a great organizer; indeed his kind is very rare in history. Yet not many of us will be willing to accept him in the excellence hall of fame. Of course there are a group of people who bask in the glory of  the great work he did and are happy to wear his symbol with honor in a society which has forbidden these symbols- to them he is the icon of excellence. There is nothing surprising there, even Satan has followers.

To associate evil with excellence is a very challenging enterprise. This is simply because excellence must of necessity represent progress for life and hence must be inherently good. Let me state here that good has more dimensions than can be discussed within the scope of this article. Many fail to realize that excelling in our fields (i.e. one’s work or means of earning a living) is the means by which the larger spectrums of our lives are powered. This is even clearer when we understand the place of self-knowledge and purpose. This is because the full force of what we can do is released only by the person we truly are. Who we really are is something created to serve a purpose in the larger scheme of things. Our purpose then of necessity, must be in sync with the larger purpose of life and it is then; that excellence becomes truly excellent. Translate that into Christo-lingo; your purpose must be in line with God’s purpose in order for you to reach your true destiny.

When we are excellent by nature i.e. extremely good people, then this positively affects our output and the lager spectrum of our lives. We may have a lot of talent and ability but unless it is put to positive use, it is negated into anti- life instead of pro- life. What this means is that the skill and talent that should be assets are now liabilities. I have already pointed to Hitler as a negative example but there are many others spread across the annals of history. When we are good at doing bad things we cannot be described as good, much less excellent. It is not only the outcome but rather an attitude based on humanity’s quest for good which makes achievements honorable and admirable. Achievements are good only because it brings humanity to a new progress threshold.

Being the best in our filed is therefore not enough to be called excellent and we must be careful with who we are awarding with trophies of excellence. I remember a song by reggae musician Peter Tosh in which he sought to justify negative behavior in the youth by how they have been pointed to the likes of pirates as great men. By our standards of excellence, pirates and murderers qualify as men who have excelled in their fields and hence can be the examples for others. The world has seen genius fraudsters like Yellow Kid who are now role models for fanatics of the Robert Green cult. If indeed Osama Bin Laden was capable of the kind of organization we credit him for, then he must be a genius of some sort and as we have seen, he is a role model for many but are their actions pro or anti life. What Mr. Laden represents can therefore not be described as excellence although he did stand out.

The legacy Mahatma Ghandi left us with; has a great deal to do with the person he was. It is the likes of him and Mother Theresa that lived the excellent life. They excelled at living life itself powering it with the enterprise they were involved in. Their values were very clear and they stood by them. Unless it benefited the whole they did not get involved. They were not out for a selfish interest; they sought to improve humanity by their very existence. They served with everything they had in them and this is the reason why a person with the family name Ghandi will stand tall and proud while others with family names such as Hitler may seek a change of name. Ghandi sought to do a good thing using a good method; what many had tried to accomplish with hate he accomplished with love. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jnr knew this too and used it effectively.

Often when we are in difficulty to choose between whether the means justifies the end or the other way round, a consultation with our two internal voices becomes imperative. We pick and choose for our convenience hoping to reach the top where we will be recognized as one who has excelled. Values fail when tested enough and we do that one thing that we hope nobody will find out… just this one time and we will enter the arena of the excellent. Very soon, we will be awarded with the excellent trophy and we will proudly or shamefully hang it on our wall for everyone to see. When men and women of excellence are assembled, our name shows up on the list. Yet, deep down, we are harboring a little secret that is capable of taking the glory we have worked decades for away in one swoop. This can be at best described as building a castle on the sand; you will spend the rest of your life trying to stop the wind from blowing.

Well here is a tip: to pretend to be something we are not is evil. The very nature of evil itself requires an attempt at mimicking good and this in fact, is what makes it evil. Evil needs to look like Good in order to access the privileges good has so it can accomplish its goals. That is why a person who wants to rob you will come looking well dressed and present themselves well in order to gain your trust- they want you to think they are good first. They need to look and sound good. It is then that they are able to do what it is they want. This is not different from the people who appear to us as having excelled when indeed they have done the most unethical things to get to where they are.

That we created a great product is not enough unless we deliver it with excellence, too. It is then that the full power of the product can reach the distance which it is capable of reaching. We as humans are not different in this regard- excellence is a character that must permeate our very being. It is a way of thinking and must be born out of positive progressive thinking. It must seek to add to life and must NEVER be dissociated from God. We must understand it as a necessity to serve humanity and ensure that when we are called excellent, it is for living our lives the best way possible powering our existence through the means by which we earn a living as a means to serve humanity in truth. 

We must come to understand that it is the person we are (structure) and not so much what we are capable of by way of talent or ability (content). When the two get a good balance, however, we perform at our peak and hence reach true excellence. True excellence is not simply choosing something you can be good at and doing it to the best of your ability, it is understanding the person you are and making the most of it by using it to serve humanity adding to life in an exceptional way. Its rewards go beyond money, trophies, certificates and honorary PhDs. It is a powerful legacy that surpasses everything else and gives meaning to the saying, “good name is better than riches”.

The following questions help you make a valuable assessment

What is your own definition of excellence?

What is your preference, end justifies the means or the means justifies the end? State your reason

What does the world say about Gandhi and Madeba?
What names can be said to be the direct opposite of these two and why?

What is your current occupation?

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About Markus Kennedy Katey


  1. The thoughts you share here were expressed decades ago by G.K. Chesterton in "The Fallacy Of Success".
    This is a great reminder. Enjoyed reading it,thanks.

  2. Thanks a lot for stopping by and commenting.

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