December 6, 2006
Greatness requires much hard work over
Is the pursuit of excellence about integrity? And if I
am not great, does that mean I lack integrity?
Greatness and integrity are reflected in how individuals
operate. Not everyone is wired for super stardom and
greatness, but all people can exude integrity and excellence
by consistently matching their words with their deeds.
For those with tremendous talent, the pursuit of excellence
is about relentless improvement. Greatness is achieved
through an enormous amount of hard work over many years.
An article in the Oct. 30 issue of Fortune magazine, "Secrets
of Greatness," asserted that talent has little to
do with greatness. Talent is an innate ability to do
some specific activity especially well; it is not simply
intelligence, motivation or personality traits. Most
accomplished people need 10 years of hard work before
becoming world class, and it can take 20 to 30 years
in such fields as music and literature.
Deliberate practice is intentional, focused and measured
continuously. Elite performers practice, on the average,
about the same amount every day, including weekends.
In a study of 20-year-old violinists, the best group
(judged by conservatory teachers) averaged 10,000 hours
of deliberate practice over their lives; the next best
averaged 7,500 hours, and the next 5,000. It's the
same story in surgery, insurance sales and virtually
all sports. More deliberate practice equals better
Vladimir Horowitz is credited with having said: "If I do not practice for
a day, I know it. If I don't practice for two days, my wife knows it. If I don't
practice for three day, the world knows it."
High-performing business leaders deliberately practice
presenting, negotiating, delivering evaluations, deciphering
financial statements, making judgments and decisions
with incomplete information, writing reports, interacting
with people and soliciting information. Chairing a
board meeting requires an in-depth understanding of
the enterprise's strategy and a coherent view of the
coming market changes. What is done at work, from the
most basic task to the most exalted, is an improvable
Feedback is crucial, and getting it should be no problem
in business. Yet only the most effective leaders seek
it rather than wait for it, half hoping it won't come.
Without accurate feedback, as Goldman Sachs leadership-development
chief Steve Kerr says, "It's as if you're bowling
through a curtain that comes down to knee level. If you
don't know how successful you are, two things happen:
One, you don't get any better, and two, you stop caring."
Perseverance and intentional-practice create opportunities
for excellence. Integrity, along side greatness, incorporates
self-discipline, sacrifice and dedication.