top of page

Why Not Just Do Great Work?

“A fellow doesn’t last long on what he has done. He’s got to keep on delivering as he goes along.” Carl Hubbell, baseball great

“The only conquests which are permanent and leave no regrets are our conquests over ourselves.” Napoleon Bonaparte

Do Great Work

Now there’s an idea.

Instead of overstating the obvious, let’s differentiate between types of work, and whether the outcomes are worthy of the title “Great.”

Quality v. Production

The word quality is overused when left alone. It must be preceded by a modifier, and ‘high’ and ‘low’ are fine for the task. All customers expect high quality work. The more they pay, the higher the quality. It is essential to the value proposition, to the bargain. The trick is maintaining high quality in the face of time constraints, budget tightening, an under-trained or a high turnover workforce, inconsistent raw material, etc.

And production gets a bad rap. The implications of an insistence on production are speed, inexpensive mass utility, slipshod safety standards, and the sacrifice of high standards. A good manager will not tolerate forgoing production (the profit incentive) for an ephemeral standard of higher quality. Engineers are trained on the cost/benefit curve. Essentially, the cost of perfect quality is astronomical. There is a point in the manufacturing/production process where no matter how much money you throw at a product, the quality just will not get appreciably better, at least not where the target customer will pay big bucks for it. Part of knowing your industry is confirming what is acceptable to your consumer.

The leader who can orchestrate the minimum acceptable cost at the optimum quality is going to make a lot of money.

Sacrifice nothing, especially production. You want it all; your customers expect it, your subordinates will hurt themselves to meet legitimate high standards, and your boss will reward it.

Organization v. Crisis

The surest way to win the hearts and minds of your employees is by being personally organized. The gregarious joke-telling boss may be popular, but if he’s scatter-shot or habitually unprepared he will not inspire imitation. Every company will have a crisis deadline event, but the steady pace of a leader driven by the expectation of a process will inspire more confidence than the frantic raving of a boss begging people to stay late to finish a power point presentation that he might need.

Have your gear together. Expect that trait from your people. One of the advantages of military training is that we take for granted the need for early preparation when the time allows. It’s as simple as having your briefcase stocked with the next day’s go-to files and having your gym bag packed, with both placed at the front door the night before. Then it’s just wake up, brush teeth, and go. It should not be wake up, brush teeth, look for lucky pen, find file on XYZ, where the heck are my socks and gym pass… Well, you get the idea.

On the USMC officer and NCO fitness report there is a leadership quality titled “Presence of Mind,” which is the exhibition of cool, clear thinking under duress. It has a unique status above all others. You won’t know if you possess it until the time comes, but steeling yourself when things are going smoothly to the possibility of chaos will help you when you need to draw on those mental reserves.

Much of being organized is thinking ahead to the hypothetical. I had a commanding officer who challenged his marines to take every opportunity to hone planning skills, through simple mental exercises. He told us that every time he drove his personal vehicle either to or from work, or especially in a new area, he would look at the terrain, the bend in the road, the hills and draws, the open fields, or the buildings in different settings. Then he would imagine how he would attack it, or defend it. He emphasized the attack.

Consistency v. the Emotional Roller Coaster

The expectations of your people are diverse, but there remains a constant: how you act, or react, under given circumstances. A steady, unflappable nature will give your people emotional security, which is essential to a group’s productive work. Do not be mercurial, especially when surprised. It’s okay to show elation when there’s a celebration, but bury the gnarly beast of anger.

NFL coach Bill Belichick, known for being an undemonstrative winner, says it best. "Never get too high, never too low."

Weird things happen to our customers, our people, our bosses, and our communities. Just turn on the news. Little should surprise the seasoned leader. You will be profoundly disappointed by others, especially those who are close to you, and trusted. Stuff happens. Stiffen your resolve. If you act with grace and restraint, especially if there ain’t a damn thing you can do to correct an unfortunate situation, your people will follow your lead.

Reliable v. Heroic

To those who love sports, this comparison will be appropriate.

In the top of the second inning of a tied baseball game, a home run is hit. The fans go nuts (as they well should). But the players over-celebrate, even though the other team still has 24 outs to play with.

Worse is the football team that is losing by three touchdowns late in the fourth quarter, and the team is now on defense. The other team is cruising to victory and has its second string running the clock down, and when a handoff is bobbled, the defensive end crushes the quarterback for a loss of some meaningless yards. A few fans go nuts (by now no one knows why). But the defense, weak the entire game, celebrates as if the Super Bowl had been won, and the DE does a mocking dance like a conquering warrior.

Nonsense. Everyone appreciates the reliable player who performs admirably, steadily, all the time. The one-off heroics mean little, except in the script of a bad movie.

You are only as good as your last at-bat. Make every step to the plate count.

The Happy Proletariat

Does. Not. Exist.

People perform, after compensation, to achieve, and to prove something. Give your people the authority and the path to truly achieve to their fullest. They will impress you with their creativity, dedication, and commitment to the mission. No smothering or micro-managing ever netted a long term gain.

There are numerous other comparisons and examples. When you recall the best and worst in examples of leadership that you have experienced, you will be able to discern those principle behaviors you want to emulate, and other traits you will quickly jettison. Keep the good, ditch the bad.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page