When you look at the service we experience around us, do you have the feeling people are striving for excellence? I see it occasionally, but sadly, not often enough.
Recently Tom Friedman, columnist for the New York Times visited a nuclear submarine under the arctic circle. Friedman emphasized excellence as the primary personality characteristic needed for a submariner. Here's his explanation:
My strongest impression, though, was experiencing something you see too little of these days on land: “Excellence.” You’re riding in a pressurized steel tube undersea. If anyone turns one knob the wrong way on the reactor or leaves a vent open, it can be death for everyone. This produces a unique culture among these mostly 20-something submariners. As one officer put it: “You become addicted to integrity.” There is zero tolerance for hiding any mistake. The sense of ownership and mutual accountability is palpable. And that is why, said Adm. Joseph Tofalo, the Navy’s director of undersea warfare, who was also on the trip, “There is no multiple-choice exam for running the sub’s nuclear reactor.” If you want to be certified to run any major system on this ship, he added, “everything is an oral and written exam to demonstrate competency.”
Excellence, integrity and accountability. All vital characteristics of a submariner. If only those were characteristics of everyone we encountered. Is excellence on land more rare because we accept mistakes and inefficiency as par for the course? Which should come first, the attitude of excellence or the acceptance of inefficiency? Let's set high expectations for excellence, first in ourselves, and then in others.