Hard experience has taught me that there are many individuals in the workplace who, far from being driven by any pursuit of excellence, are satisfied to perform at an above average level.
These are not people who lack ambition. They can be more accurately described as lacking a sufficient standard of measurement. Left to ourselves, most of us would describe our job performance as above average and, not surprisingly, we aren't about to search for any evidence to the contrary. After all, we have things to do, the boss isn't complaining, and we're certainly doing a better job than that slug down the hall.
Like Jackie Mason's joke that his mother didn't know how much he drank until the day he came home sober, many of us don't realize what a low standard we embrace until the day we learn how much better we could be doing. That's one reason for the "If I knew then what I know now" stories. We look back and are stunned at how much better we could have been.
Improvement requires curiosity and a willingness to go beyond, often far beyond, what is required. You don't need to read those management books, but you do. You can come up with plenty of excuses for not attending that workshop, but you grit your teeth and go. Your pride may suffer a bit if you ask some more experienced managers for advice and ideas, but you do so anyway.
This gives you a major advantage because many of your competitors are willing to coast. By investing in yourself and honing your skills, you can catapult yourself past rivals who stopped learning 10 or 20 years ago. There is only one catch:
You have to do it.
You can't just think about doing it or purchase the books and classes and then ignore them. You must have the raw commitment to delve into and master the subject; to question your assumptions; and to change course if you are on a slow or wrong path.
This is not easy, but it is invigorating. You will see your job with new eyes. Opportunities and challenges will emerge. As you achieve a higher skill level, other skills may be needed in order to stay there or move on. In fact, count on that.
There may be times when you look back at your previous practices with a bit of longing for the simpler days, but you'll know that the person you've become would never again find that to be acceptable. You have not just transformed your job performance; you have transformed yourself.
All for the better.