Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, used to tell his players, “Chase perfection and you may catch excellence.”
What is excellence? It may be difficult to define, but my good friend and fellow coach, Jack Hermanski, may have an insight. We tried to give our basketball players credit for Effort Points in practices and games. When we tried to define just what Effort Points were, Jack probably had the very best definition when he said, “I don’t know what they are; but I do know them when I see them.”
The same may be said for excellence. Given the above, I thought I might share some excellence that I have seen in people I have known. These observations may lead to an understanding, if not a definition, of excellence.
Christian Brother Paul French was the best teacher I had in my collegiate years at Lewis College, now Lewis University. He was also the toughest, most demanding professor I ever had at any level of academic work. I think what may have separated him from other teachers I had was his extensive preparation. I had him for Shakespeare’s comedy and history plays and his preparation for each class was impeccable.
Gordie Gillespie was an outstanding coach in football, basketball, and baseball. I did have the opportunity to work with the likes of Bob Knight, John Wooden, and Dean Smith at basketball clinics. Gordie would not take a back-seat to any of them. His preparation for high school football at Joliet Catholic was so thorough that when darkness came, people would shine their car lights onto the practice field so he could complete his preparation.
Bishop Roger Kaffer was the best priest I have ever known. His work ethic never ceased to amaze me. It was not unusual for him to work well after midnight. In fact, this was the norm when he served as our principal at Providence Catholic High School. Despite working so late, he always began the day saying daily mass at 7 a.m.
One of the Bishop’s favorite sayings was, “People are more important than things.” And that was how he lived his life. He always dropped what he was doing to help a person in need. He would complete the work later, but serve the person now.
I was fortunate to coach some all-conference, all-state, and All-American players at the University of St. Francis. I do not remember any player who achieved these accolades who was not a great worker at practice. To a man, when they tied up their shoes and walked across that line for practice, they were the same every day. They had the ability and the attitude to consistently give their best effort. It was no secret why they excelled. They deserved every honor they received because of their work ethic.
I can’t define excellence but I think I have known it when I have seen it. It seems to begin and end with preparation and work.
As a leader, you may want to reflect on your preparation and your work ethic.