The Danger of Excellence

2016-03-04

It feels great to be good at something! When you do your “thing,” you get a real sense of accomplishment that puts a bounce in your step. It’s even better when others notice and offer a word of thanks or encouragement for your efforts. In fact, in most cases, it wasn’t any effort at all, was it? When you’re working with your natural talents, using your God-given gifts and abilities, it’s hardly work. Oh, it may be hard work (whether physical or mental), but you have endless energy for it and you don’t mind a bit. However, this zone of excellence can also be highly dangerous.

It is wonderful to experience being excellent and it has a tremendous impact on others. We all want to do well, really well, and feel good about our work. What workplace would encourage its employees to be mediocre? We all want excellence! Proverbs 22:29 says, “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before obscure men.” In other words, a job well done will be noticed and recognized by those in power and authority.

Also, the first-century evangelist, Paul, wrote letters to early Christ followers and he often commended them for excellent works, for their growing faith, and for developing excellence in their character. So what’s not to love about how excellence impacts people, organizations, and communities?

Nothing. Nothing at all.

Except that excellence can do nasty things to a person’s heart. It can create pride. It’s not the external impact of excellence that’s a problem, it’s the internal impact.

The type of pride I’m referring to is not having a good feeling about your work. Nor is it that sense of accountability and accomplishment you get from doing well (i.e. a strong work ethic). This pride is that sense of being better than others. Pride is the idea that “I don’t need to listen to others’ ideas because my way is right.” Pride is also impatient and overly demanding. Pride is dismissive.

How does a person move from excellence and a job well done to being prideful?

When someone is really good at something, best in class, everyone involved tends to forget where that ability came from. They, we, fail to remember that what we’re witnessing is the live performance of an ability that God the Creator designed into that person. Whatever your talent of excellence is, the people who are the direct benefactors tend not to turn to God and say, “Thank you Lord for giving Candice that gift!” Instead, they say, “Candice! What a great job! You did so well on that!”

That’s when the temptation of pride begins to take hold.

When we break the line of connection between excellence and the One who actually made it possible, we must reconnect the line somewhere else.

The only place left is the person who did the work. When we take credit for what God has done, we birth pride.

This process happens in secular environments, where you might argue it is rather understandable, but we also do this in the Church!

Let’s return to Proverbs for wisdom on pride:

  • “When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2).
  • “A man’s pride will bring him low, But a humble spirit will obtain honor” (Proverbs 29:23).
  • “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel” (Proverbs 12:15).

What’s the antidote for pride? It’s having a proper understanding of who God is, who He says we are, and what He has done for us. (That’s the primary message of the Bible.) When you do well, when you experience excellence, acknowledge in your heart that you did that only because your loving Creator gave you that ability. He gave you that ability because He loves you and He wants you to use that ability to make a difference in others’ lives (ultimately for building up the Church).

I challenge you to sit down with someone you trust and explore the relationship between excellence, God-given gifts and abilities, pride, and humility. Identify trigger events and how to help each other develop and retain a God-perspective on excellence.

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.

Credits
Photo by janeb13. Photo available at Pixabay under CC0 license. Image modified for size and space.

All scripture quoted from the New American Standard Bible (NASB), Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.

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