By Michele Parrish
in Partnership with Mark Parrish

Feb 14, 2020

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit. – Aristotle

As a special treat for my birthday this past year, my family and I traveled to France. A highlight of our trip was a stay at the Paris Ritz.

Talk about a magical experience! We’ve enjoyed other fine hotels over the years, but the Paris Ritz is a cut above. Everything is done with great pride and elegance, without a hint of stuffiness or arrogance. At 122 years of age, Conde Nast Traveler lists the Ritz Paris as an “All-Time Favorite Places To Stay.”

What makes the Paris Ritz stand at or near the peak of all the fine hotels in the world? As a leadership and management consulting firm focused on creating excellence in organizations, we thought a lot about this.

Starting with our earliest days together, we looked back at the organizations that, like the Ritz, had a lasting impact on us. At Intel Corporation, where I served in leadership roles during fifteen years of rapid growth, the devotion to operational and technical excellence was palpable. That experience still influences me today as the values imparted and the mindset bestowed live on in me. Similarly, my husband, Mark, fondly remembers his days passionately leading assembly operations at Harley-Davidson, Inc., an organization that through product excellence inspired everything from body tattoos to rider groups and the merchandise galore they adore.

Both my husband and I were fortunate to experience the thrill of participating in a culture of excellence at MIT. Still today, we maintain close friendships and a broad network of dedicated colleagues, all touched by this special institute that exudes excellence in education and a commitment to life-long learning. Likewise, the living laboratory that is West Point left an indelible mark on Mark through its excellence in teaching leadership.

Over the years, we have had the opportunity to work with a number of elite companies and organizations that make excellence an everyday and enduring endeavor. We have also experienced the sadness of organizations that lost their mark of excellence over time. This brings us back to a core question. What makes organizations consistently excellent for decades, and in some cases, more than a century?

The Leader’s Role in Creating Excellence

Behind every excellent organization is a leader who has a heart that is committed to excellence. Take the Disney organization, for example. Walt Disney had such a strong desire to touch the hearts of people that he often took huge financial risks to achieve his desired level of excellence. Fortunately for all of us, his devotion to excellence is still alive today. Our family, like so many others, has experienced the joy and wonder of Disney’s creative excellence in movies, at theme parks, and even on cruises. I’m grateful that Walt’s pursuit of excellence has been transmitted successfully from heart to heart within the organization through the years. Today, two generations after he has left the scene, those who work at Disney continue to delight in bringing delight to those who visit.

At Apple, Steve Jobs had a heart for excellence in design. Computers, smartphones, and so many daily devices are now influenced by his commitment to excellence in design. As I opened my new AirPods Pro today, the little white card inside prominently boasts, “Designed by Apple in California.” So many Apple products and services have changed our world. While Job’s passed years ago, his legacy lives on and our lives are still influenced by his drive for excellence.

For many leaders, the call for excellence comes from above. The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians at Colossae, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men…You are serving the Lord Christ.” Jesus clearly had a heart for excellence in serving others and that heart has been shared worldwide for centuries.

Cultivating Excellence: Willpower vs. Heart

Some organizations achieve a certain level of excellence through willpower. They are driven, often by leaders who themselves are driven. But there is little joy in working in this type of culture. More often than not, the organization’s customers sense a lack of caring, and the organization’s employees are motivated more by fear than by commitment. Teamwork is weak, and turnover is high.

Truly excellent organizations cultivate a desire for excellence in the hearts of their people. The people who work for these organizations are passionate about their work and how they work together. Working for such organizations is often thrilling and fulfilling.

A Heart for Excellence: A Servant’s Heart

A good question to ask when striving for excellence in your organization is, who am I seeking to serve? Achieving excellence is a heart issue. Excellent leaders aspire to provide excellence for others. They are committed to creating cultures in which this aspiration for excellence is passed from one heart to another, until, like a benevolent virus, it infects the whole organization.

The heart of excellence is to have a heart for excellence and serving others.

Copyright Parrish Partners 2020. All Rights Reserved.