A Serious Lack of Excellence

Too many people are just clocking in.

That includes leaders and managers, and both the secular and the sacred work realm.

I always want to work in a place of excellence, where the team is excited, the leader motivates and works harder than the team, and there is a general sense of all aboard and going somewhere together.

That’s not what I’ve seen over the years, in some of the places I work or in the lives of friends who share frustrations with what happens where they work.

Instead, I see people fixating on if they did their share, met the minimum required hours, or showed up just enough to get their full pay. The job is about the pay, not the joy or value of work. The job is an inconvenient necessity for them to get money so they can use that money to live their preferred life. The job, in and of itself, is not a calling or anything beyond a paycheck. The job is an annoyance because it gets in the way of what they really want to do in life.

I get that. I had dreams. I had things I wanted to do in life. My jobs haven’t been about those at all. So I get that jobs often suck. I know we aren’t all living our career dreams. I’m not. But each job can have a sense of accomplishment and value if the leadership is working in that direction, and the team is held responsible for responding.

It is tiring, particularly when you’re the lower wage earner of the team, to hear leaders and others making sure to point out that today they’re going to show up less or do less because yesterday they did more than their imagined quota (note: there is no quota, no maximum time allowed, when you receive a salary and benefits -- that only applies to hourly workers). It is tiring when you are the leader and no one on your team shows up for anything outside of the minimum expectation and requirement to get the job done. It is tiring, when leaders and team members alike, show no desire to continue learning and acquiring new skills that could help make them a better worker and possibly, someday, a leader in their own right.

“It is tiring” -- do you see that phrase?

Maybe we’re all so exhausted with work not because we’re overworked, but because we’re slogging through the mud of mediocrity when we want to be racing through excellence. Or, some of us pulling the weight of team members who aren’t working too hard, and others are worn out trying to conjure up enthusiasm when the minimum status quo has become acceptable to the rest of the team.

More than once I’ve had someone higher up where I work realize I was spending my own time and money to learn and stay on top of the topics and skills relevant to the job. Instead of spurring them on to be better at managing their own time, or to pursue a similar path of continuing their personal education in all possible ways, they simply passed work, decisions, or questions off to me. They took advantage of my off-the-clock work and expense in a way that didn’t encourage excellence, but instead, encouraged frustration and a sense of being used.

Who wants to do a good job if that means leaders and other team members dump more on you instead of rising to do the same thing in their own life? This is especially disgusting if you are paid less, or see them rewarded.

It is as if people view their job, and all of the peripheral self-education and skill-building that is related to it specifically or tangentially, as something that can only be done within the confines of the minimum hours they are being paid for. Anything possibly “job related” is tracked and saved for when you’re on the clock. All the rest of their time must have nothing to do with their work.

This is couched in terms of protecting personal or family time, or personal relaxation and rest, but what I’ve seen is that people who take this approach are often more stressed with their work because they have done absolutely no preparation or thinking about their work unless they are “on the clock” and that has led them to horrible time management issues. They left it all for one eight hour day. They didn’t plan ahead. They didn’t acquire the skills and knowledge they needed to meet their current workload. They are behind, unskilled, and not able to handle what is a standard workload.

Do you know how much less stressful it is to create the habit of showing up on time (or even early), and diving into the work? Procrastination and disorganization does nothing but create stress and anxiety.

Often, this gets seen by outsiders as someone who is overworked; few things are as frustrating as someone who has put in the time and money to acquire the knowledge and skills who can now work quickly and efficiently to see these unprepared team members and leaders receive pay increases, breaks, or be excused from doing their work because they seem to be overworked. Even worse is when people shift their work off onto the person who seems to breeze through things simple because the latter has exercised the skills to get things done quickly, effectively, and accurately.

You are not overworked if you are simply unable to meet your workload due to poor preparation. What you are is underprepared.

One of the best ways I personally rest and relax is pursuing skills, knowledge, and understanding about the things I often end up using in my work. It’s about being a well-rounded person. It’s about being a steward to the things God has given me, which includes time, money, intelligence, and talents. My hobbies and interests are something I love to spend time on, sure, but also, simply wanting to do an excellent job at work has led to acquiring knowledge or skills on something I hadn’t realized I was interested in.

It is funny how, when you want to do a good job, you have interests you didn’t realize you had. It is funny how, when you want to do a good job, you acknowledge areas you don’t have the natural gift and realize you will have to work to learn that skill set.

As a Christian, I find it obscene to see people who lay claim to being Christians, whether they work in the secular or sacred work sphere, to have a poor work ethic, to show up late, and to put in the bare minimum required. We are to do excellent work, whatever our job is (and I’ve had jobs where I was washing dishes and cleaning toilets), to the glory of God. Christians should be the most excellent workers; our output should be stellar and accurate and timely. Our attention to detail, and concern over honesty and timeliness, should be at the highest level. We should not be lazy, nor should we take on an attitude of bitterness over what we think we’re owed. We shouldn't be most concerned that we get reimbursed for every iota lest that job take from our pockets in any way. We shouldn't expect our jobs to pay for our education, but pursue it because it will help us do excellent work for God. We should simply work to the glory of God.

I often leave jobs out of frustration. Not that I don’t like the work. Not that I don’t want to work. Out of frustration. Because of this. A lack of excellence, a lack of a desire to pursue excellence, a sense that everyone is just clocking in, so why shouldn’t I?

I despise that.


  1. We are reading an excellent book at work now called Chess Not Checkers. The author is Mark Miller. He is the VP of leadership development at Chick-fil-A. He makes many of the same points as you did.


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