Everything We Have

Last fall I heard Frank Blake, former CEO of Home Depot, say these words:

It takes everything we have to be excellent at anything.

– Frank Blake

He’s right. And here’s what is so convicting about that idea: although I want to be excellent, I don’t want to give everything.

Here’s the reason: I don’t want to give up my freedom. I don’t like being boxed in to a discipline or structure. I don’t like something else, even if it’s a goal, to make my decisions for me. Perhaps for you it’s something else.

Being a generalist is safer. You don’t risk it all in the direction of excellence. You can hide behind a thin veneer of ‘I don’t care about being the best.

Bryan Clay is a gold medal Olympic Decathlete. He’s also won a World Championship. We went to the same college and a few times we trained on the track at the same time.

I remember coming to the track to run sprints one morning. When I arrived, Bryan was already running 200m sprints. He would get in the blocks, begin his sprint, and about the 100m mark his dog would start to chase him. He would then walk the rest of the way around the track and start all over.

I changed shoes, warmed up, stretched, and began running my own sprints. I ran until my legs felt like lead. Then I cooled down, stretched, changed my shoes and left. As I walked away, Bryan was still sprinting 200s.

Frank’s quote is stuck to my wall. The picture of Bryan being chased by his black lab is stuck in my brain.

Personal excellence is one thing. Organizational excellence is even harder. If you want to lead excellence, it will take everything from the people you lead. It will take alignment, accountability, and a fierce commitment to say no. It doesn’t mean you never get a day off or a crossword puzzle at lunch. It probably means rethinking meetings, job descriptions, and department lines. It may mean hard conversation about some team members and old couches.

If variety is the spice of life, Bryan had very little spice that day. Then again, he does have a gold medal.

Next week I’ll begin a series I’ve been really looking forward to. I’m going to unpack the five reasons change fails, and what to do about it. Whatever you are changing and however it’s going, I think you’ll find it helpful.

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