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The distinction between Excellence and Greatness

When I got involved in the Tribal Leadership world a few years ago, I learned many key distinctions. One of my favorites was the distinction between Excellence and Greatness.

Stage four tribes come from a collective quest to reach a common goal. This common goal is so big and challenging that no individual can reach it alone. Although this is an inspiring ideal, getting there causes many individual challenges.

Take a bunch of high achievers, put them together and there is no guarantee of immediate results. Sometimes egos clash and people do not come together. Other times, achievers used to doing it all forget there are other great people around them. The distinction between excellence and greatness is there to remind us of this.

The distinction between excellence and greatness

In a nutshell, excellence is how far our individual skills can bring us. High performers or achievers, often do not believe or cannot see anything that can be too big for them to do alone. So they hammer away at things but the best they can hope to achieve is excellence.

Greatness is where we can get when as a collective, we can all use our skills together. We use them to reach our collective goal together. We accept that if any of us does not bring our full game to the table, we will not reach our goal as it is that difficult to reach.

As individuals, this implies that we must learn to be humble. To accept that we can be great individually but others can also be great without this being a threat to us. The more people we are that are great, the greater things that we can do together. For it to work though, we must put our personal egos aside.

To illustrate the point, one of the examples I like to give comes from the original Avengers movie in 2012. In the first half of the movie, the super heroes try to prove to one another which one is the best. The first time they face off against the aliens, they fight as individuals, and guess what, they lose! In the final battle, they realize they need to fight together. They learn to use each other’s strengths because they cannot not win any other way.

The clip below is an extract from one of my talks called “Tribal Leadership for Agile Teams” that I gave at Agile 2015.

Feel free to reach out to chat about tribal leadership and how it applies to co-creative leadership! We can also talk about having me speak at your next event, or any other interesting reason you can think of!!

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About the author


Steffan Surdek

I am a leadership development coach, corporate trainer, professional speaker and author. I believe in contributing to a greater cause, making a difference and adding value.

Feel free to reach out, I would love to hear about the leadership challenges in your organization!

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