The Difference Between Average and Excellent Performers
There’s a big difference between average performers and excellent ones, but they aren’t mutually exclusive.
This should not come as a surprise, but the majority of people are average performers (that’s why we call them average!). They perform their duties and take the paycheck without disturbing the status quo.
Excellent performers, in my experience, tend to share the same four qualities:
1. Superior motivation
2. Singular drive
3. Fast, high-quality execution
4. Enough expertise to ask the right questions
Only one of these traits, number four, requires what you'd call “traditional experience,” or education and preparation over a long period of time. The other three can be managed. Yet more than managed, they have to be nurtured. Excellence in performance is like a muscle. It has to be identified, worked on, and maintained in order to operate at full capacity. Every professional should strive for excellence, and every organization should make it a priority to nurture it in their people. How often have I seen excellent employees slip into mediocrity because of cynicism and lack of enthusiasm? It happens more often than you’d think.
Excellent performers are sometimes born, but more often made. The same is true of average performers. Remember, I said excellent and average performers are not mutually exclusive. There aren’t two types of people. An average performer can become an excellent one, and an excellent performer who is stuck with the wrong tasks can become average.
On the flip side, not every average performer will grow to be an excellent one, because people aren’t all born with the same desire to excel.
So what separates these two types of people? What it really comes down to is motivation and drive. They may sound similar but these are actually two very different traits.
Motivation, like ambition, is the need to grow and be better. You can be quite ambitious without having the drive to work on it day in and day out. Many people have big ideas but no drive, so they may end up selling those ideas or finding someone else to carry them out for them. For example, I am motivated to get my taxes done because the IRS has a firm deadline. But I just don’t have the drive or the will to take care of them myself. That’s why I hire a professional to take care of them for me.
Motivation is defined by where you want to be. Every company needs motivated people to be successful, but drive is what actually gets you there—the proactive side of motivation. Drive often comes from good managers who encourage and push their teams to execute and realize the company’s ambitions.
In fact, it is the manager’s job to foster excellence in their employees. If they are constantly putting them through the same motions and not recognizing their talents or achievements, they will be stuck with an average team.
As a manager, you should expect nothing less than excellence while asking yourself how to make things better, and what you need to do to increase your team’s motivation and drive. Managers need to create an opportunity for open communication with their team members so they can share their own thoughts and needs. That space will give them the opportunity to explore their own limits and excel.
Excellent performers, after all, don’t necessarily have to be leaders. They can be excellent followers as well. Ambition is not necessarily about getting more money, it’s about bettering yourself. It’s the mindset of “I’m here, but I want to be better. I want to bring more solutions to my boss.”
It takes a unique combination of opportunity and management to showcase an employee’s skill to its fullest extent. Excellent performers come in all shapes and sizes, but they all share a relentless pursuit of improvement.
No one person has to be excellent at everything. But the desire to grow beyond, the ability to motivate yourself and others, and the drive to make those changes happen are the traits that will set you apart.
- In addition to being efficient executors, excellent performers have both motivation (the desire to be better) and drive (the actions needed to get there).
- Because it can be easy for an excellent performer to become average in the wrong job, it’s the responsibility of managers to not only manage, but nurture excellence among their teams.
- Not all business leaders are excellent performers, and not all excellent performers want to become business leaders.