In the 1980’s there were few management conversations, conferences, seminars or workshops that didn’t have at least a topic instigated by the book In Search of Excellence. The work by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, Jr. was seminal.
Still in the early days of a new gig, I recently dusted off my copy. Though (in my opinion) every bit as relevant today, I read it with a more attentive (and hopefully, discerning) ear thirty years later.
One takeaway of this most recent reread is that excellence is often about the little things as opposed to the big ideas and initiatives.
Often the difference between excellence and average (or a bust) is the degree to which we pay attention to that space between the lines.
This is the silence…where understanding is assumed. It is the vacuum between intent and follow through. It is often the tension between strategy and execution.
At times it can be lost in a knee-jerk response.
But the art of managing the space between the lines while nurturing an entrepreneurial spirit — not to mention, training and mentoring along the way — is an art not easily mastered.
Experience is, of course, a great though unforgiving teacher. Offered here, as an alternative learning experience, are three things that might help prevent excellence from disappearing between the lines.
- Clearly articulate (and over-articulate) goals and objectives of a project, event or initiative;
- Never let a bias for action trump a goal or objective;
- Take a minute to watch a future movie — see the project in finished form through the eyes of your client — imagine what their experience will be.
Sometimes a rush to activity is mistaken for the bias for action referenced by Peters and Waterman. Certainly, as Seth Godin frequently points out, sometimes you simply have to launch the project or deliver the product or service.
But great managers understand that activity does not necessarily equate to progress.
The quest for excellence includes an approach that reads (and listens) between the lines…employing the eyes and ears of the client.