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Excellence Now—Leadership Lesson From the Red Bull of Management Thinkers


Excellence is a function of design.


Just ask lifelong student of excellence, Tom Peters, best-selling author and global thought leader. Excellence resonates, as Tom discovered when he published his first NYT best seller, In Search of Excellence. The publisher printed 3,000 copies. The book sold 3 million copies.


During our first virtual visit, Tom revealed the new Golden Rule, the Leadership Seven, and the definition of Extreme Humanism (insert hyperlink to part 1 post) based on his newest book, Excellence Now: Extreme Humanism. We continued our conversation in the context of powerful people practices, including why inclusivity is studentship rather than leadership.


In the final installment of our exclusive series, Tom makes the case for Excellence as a design principle.


Karen: You hypothesize in your book that every leader is a designer. I don’t see that quality listed in many job descriptions for leaders. Why do you believe that quality is often overlooked?


Tom: My proposition is that every leader becomes a de facto designer and must be hired for or acquire a full-fledged design sensibility. In an organization truly permeated with Design Mindfulness / Extreme Humanism / Extreme Emotional Connection, “design sensibility” is as evident in a training course or social media campaign or approach to hotel housekeeping activities. Design is the lens through which formal designers, and every formal leader, must view the world, the product or service, and the external or internal customer.


Karen: I wonder what might be different if more leaders viewed their organization’s purpose with design sensibility. What might be possible?


Tom: Shaker furniture is a great example of the intersection between purpose and product. Shakers reflect their religious beliefs in how they design and make their furniture. Their minimalist approach to life shows up in their minimalist designs. I’ll never forget reading the encapsulation of the Shaker design philosophy for the first time. “The peculiar grace of the Shaker chair is due to the fact that it was made by someone capable of believing that an angel might come and sit on it.” I think about product design in simpler terms. What products can you design that would make the world a better place? And, most importantly, what products could you design that would make you smile if you described them to your kids or to somebody else’s kids?


Karen: Great designs start with a great design premise. What’s the design premise for Excellence?


Tom: What precisely does Excellence mean to you? Take your time on this. Please don’t brush past it. Please use practical examples. What does Excellence mean to your peers? Please, please please, try to reach an agreement on this. Defining excellence is the starting point for great leadership design, great organizational design, and great product design.

Karen: You believe that Excellence is not an “aspiration.” Excellence is not a “hill to climb.” What, then, is Excellence, as you define it?


Tom: Excellence is the next five minutes. Or it is nothing at all. Excellence is your next five-minute conversation in the real or virtual “hallway.” Or not. Excellence is your next email or text message. This is sooooo true!!! Give me a collection of a leader’s last 10 emails—and I’ll give you an accurate assessment of his or her character and effectiveness. Or not. Excellence is the first three minutes of your next meeting. Or not. Excellence is shutting up and listening—really listening / “aggressively” listening. Or not. Was or was not that brief conversation hurried, distracted, and emotionally empty? Or was it the exemplification of the Excellence that generates engaged employees aiming for the moon in their efforts, that, in turn, creates the long-term superior performance (innovation, peerless quality, breathtaking design, community engagement, “bottom line” results, etc.)?


Karen: Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us throughout this series and through your prolific writing. What call to action do you want to leave our readers with to conclude our conversation?


Tom: Your journey to excellence begins today. In blunt terms: how you behave as a leader—right now in the midst of crisis—will likely be a, or the, principal determinant of your life legacy. For better or for worse. People first / Extreme Employee Engagement. Or not. Now. Or never. Caring and compassionate and inclusive leadership. Or not. Now. Or never. Extreme Community Engagement. Or not. Now. Or never. Extreme Sustainability. Or not. Now. Or never. Products and services that inspire, that make the world just a little bit better, and that make us proud. Or not. Now. Or never. Extreme Humanism in all we do. Or not. Now. Or never. Excellence in all we do. Or not. Now. Or never.

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