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Operational excellence and personal excellence share many similar characteristics and principles. Both fundamentally revolve around continuous improvement, focused goals, and discipline. And neither can be truly achieved—in business or life—without a steadfast effort, the desire to learn, and willingness to adapt.

In fact, the principles that guide the pathways to excellence for both are intrinsically linked: Each person’s journey toward excellence will always be both ongoing and dynamic.

In the course of my professional life—which includes 22 years at The Northridge Group in more than six different roles, including CFO, COO, Operational Excellence, and Board Secretary —I have had the fortunate opportunity to serve as team member, standard bearer, and de facto agent of change, tasked with helping companies and individuals evolve to ever greater levels of “excellence.”

Lessons Learned Along the Journey

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As I enter into retirement this September, it seems fitting to share some of the most poignant lessons I’ve learned along my journey.

  • Seek to understand. When you listen, people become more engaged because you’re showing respect for their point of view. There’s a saying, we have been given two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than speak. Try the phrase “tell me more”.
  • Value differences. Those who think as we do or have had the same experiences as us will reinforce our thinking, but opposites will challenge our assumptions, opening our minds to broader possibilities.
  • Solve the right problem. Albert Einstein has been attributed with saying If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions. Always ask “why” 5 times to make sure you’ve correctly framed the problem in front of you.
  • Picture what success looks like. It’s easy to get so caught up in analysis that you lose sight of the issue you’re trying to solve. If you keep in mind what success looks like, especially from the client’s point of view, you’ll deliver the best outcome.
  • Facts are our friend. We never have the benefit of 100% information when faced with a decision, but if you ground yourself with facts, the right path becomes clear.
  • Quality and attention to detail matter.  Always set high standards for your work, it brings value to clients and personal satisfaction for a job well done. But know when to put “pencils down”!
  • Stay calm and move forward. No matter what the pressure, be like a duck – glide forward, appear unruffled, and don’t let them see how hard you’re paddling beneath the surface.
  • Teamwork really is the key to success.  A tree standing alone is more likely to succumb to the ravages of weather, but a tree standing among others can weather many storms.
  • Be a mentor no matter what your role.  Always help team members put their best foot forward. I have often said that EVERYONE has both a “shiny” side and a “dull” side. Together we can make the most impact if we put everyone’s shiny side forward.
  • Never stop learning.  Always be curious. Businesses are constantly evolving, the world around us is changing, and so we too, as individuals, must always be learning and adapting.

On this note, excellence in business and in your personal life requires a commitment to lifelong learning, and continuously updating one’s skills and knowledge.

I plan on doing exactly this.

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