[October 10, 2013] Senior executive leaders need to possess not just more experience and focus, but they must also be capable of exceptional performance. This performance should be an order of magnitude better than average.
When I was a new second lieutenant at the Infantry Officer Basic Course in Fort Benning, Georgia, my class of 300 officers were given a physical fitness test that included three events: sit-ups, push-ups, and a 2-mile run. Having trained for a year for the run, I knew I would do well and did in fact complete the 2 miles in under 12 minutes; only 25 of us were able to accomplish this. The track was one mile long, so we had to loop it twice. Yet when I approached the half-mile mark (1.5 mile point into the run), I could see one of my peers finish the race. He had finished in just over 8 minutes. His performance was an order of magnitude better than mine.
What I learned from this was two lessons. First, when you are one of the best at what you do, there will be someone who is much better – faster. Second, to truly be the best (i.e., the most successful) you should strive to be an order of magnitude better than the best.
I spend a lot of time with some excellent junior leaders. Many of them are the best in their military class. It is not unusual to see them being satisfied with what they have achieved.
The advice I give to them is that while they may be the best in their group, they are not necessarily the best overall. They should not be satisfied with where they are. While they may be the winner of this particular race, they are simply running in a relatively slow race. To truly be the best, they must finish far ahead of their peers.
The analogy puts into perspective that we should not be happy with the “best” performance but we should strive for increasingly better performance. Senior executive leaders should be mentoring those exceptional junior leaders to strive for improved performance and they themselves should be an order of magnitude better.
Thus, it is important that leaders be capable of “recognizing a slow race” when they see it.