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“I think of music as passionate narrative. In order to be passionate, you have to make yourself vulnerable, and in order to be vulnerable, you have to have trust. To me trust is the most vital element of any important relationship.”

— Yo-Yo Ma 

Renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma needs no introduction to his work or expertise. When you hear his name, the immediate tendency is to associate adjectives such as world-class, incomparable, amazing and gifted. I recently read an interview Yo-Yo Ma granted to writer Howard Gardner and was intrigued by the answer to a question posed to the master musician:

“What do you consider good work in your role as a leading musical performer?”

His replies were insightful and can easily be transferred to our own concepts of “good work.”

Achieve Excellence Now

Regardless of whether you take on Yo-Yo Ma’s personal definition of ‘good work,’ you and I are measured by the quality of our work, relative to our work environment. Whether it’s making music, preparing a document, delivering a presentation, meeting a deadline, attending a meeting, coaching an employee, interacting with a co-worker, or responding to your manager, you’re getting a report card on your performance.

Tony Schwartz, in one of the most-read Harvard Business Reveiw blog posts of all time, opened up the topic of excellence, giving clear steps to excellence. As we all know, pushing past your comfort zone lays the groundwork for excellence. Why was this post the most popular one ever? Because we all are working to increase personal effectiveness and improve professional presence in our own workplace and personal lives. Here are the core concepts to get you started:

Do the hardest work first. Since we have a limited amount of will and self-discipline for each day, start to prioritize the hardest tasks first, even at the expense of catching up on email, or following other daily morning rituals. Focus on the success feeling you will have when you complete the most difficult task on your list, with the highest quality work you can muster.

Be honest with yourself about your shortcomings. If we asked your family, colleagues, employees or managers in what area you are lacking, what would they say? As Marshall Goldsmith pointed out in his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, until you face those parts of yourself, the quality of your work will likely be stalled out at the current level.

Practice new habits and seek intermittent feedback. Utilizing a 360-degree feedback assessment is invaluable, but if that isn’t possible, you must become self-evaluative. Practice your new habits (listening, following through on commitments, completing projects, perhaps?), and follow that up with actively seeking feedback from those around you. If you have never done this before, the first thing you’ll notice is how receptive people are, when they know that you are vulnerable and working on your skills. The ‘intermittent’ part of our feedback advice is important. It means that you thoughtfully consider the feedback received, pivot to change your habits or behaviors, then inquire again after time has passed. This sets up the continuous improvement model for your own professional presence and personal

Ritualize your practice. Researcher, Roy Baumeister, has found that none of us has an unlimited amount of self-discipline. Very simply put, successful people simply know how to automate some of their challenges, so they can save their self-discipline stores for important matters. The best way to insure you’ll take on difficult tasks is to build rituals — specific times at which you do them, so that over time you do them without having to squander energy thinking about them.

The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor. ~Vince Lombardi

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