Excellence is Taught and Learned

October 26, 2020

How do you build a culture of excellence in a company or an organization? How do you instill a commitment to excellence in an individual’s life? There are different methods, and some are better than others. Some can be much more impactful in a significant way. These questions are my constant focus, and, as you might expect, the answers differ with the circumstances.

I remember it like it was yesterday though I was only seven years old. I had chores back then, and one of them was washing the dishes.

It was a Saturday morning; we had had a late breakfast, and I was hurrying to get those dishes washed. My buddies were waiting for me on my back porch because we had a Saturday morning ritual of playing football against another group of neighborhood kids. I was tardy and holding up the show, so I was rushing to get those dishes done.

My mom walked by and picked up a fork that I had just washed. It had a little bit of grits stuck on it. She said, in that nice motherly voice, “Honey, this fork is still dirty. You didn’t do a very good job.” I said, “Give it back to me, mom; I’ll wash it again.”  She said, “Yes, you will, sweetheart, and all of these other dishes that you have already washed.”

Well, I had washed over half of the dishes, and I was running late with people to see, places to go, and things to do, so I vigorously protested. My mom said, “You didn’t do a good job with the fork, so how can I trust that you have done a good job with the rest of the dishes? Do your best the first time, and you’ll never have to do a job over again.”

The pain of having to wash all those dishes again seared into my psyche the meaning and importance of excellence, defined very simply as doing the very best you can, each and every time. And over time, my parents continued to teach me the importance of excellence, though I must confess that I had difficulty learning those lessons at times.

Many of the characteristics essential to develop in life do not come at birth. They come from lessons taught and lessons learned. A commitment to excellence is one of those critical things. It just doesn’t happen either in an organization or a person’s life. It must be intentional, and needs to be taught before it can be learned.


“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception; it is a prevailing attitude.”
-Charles R. Swindoll
American pastor, author and educator