Chris Hirst: The mundanity of excellence

If someone on your team isn't performing, it's probably your fault, says the author of No Bullsh*t Leadership and the global CEO of Havas Creative.

by Chris Hirst
Chris Hirst

This week I had an all too familiar conversation with a CEO. A recent hire, brought into their team with much fanfare and high expectations, wasn’t delivering. After a fast start their initial energy, impact and visibility were fading and fading fast. In short order they had slipped from being the long-awaited solution, to becoming part of the problem. The CEO wondered how this happened? How did we get it so wrong? What was their problem?

Leadership is entirely concerned with people. Sometimes many, sometimes few, but always people. And people, all of us, are complicated. Consequently, the hiring process is more an art than a science. In my experience if, for every three people you hire, you do better than one exceeding expectations, one meeting them and one falling short, then you’re doing well indeed. 

Talent is an elusive quantity. Hamilton College professor Daniel Chambliss, after spending eighteen months with a group of elite swimmers trying to understand it better, concluded that it is simply a story we tell ourselves to explain the performance of others. In the context of elite athletes at least, he argues that talent is an illusory concept that can be explained through attitude, hard work and context. He entitled his study, The Mundanity of Excellence.

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