Newsletter #438 – Achieving Excellence

How do we keep improving as leaders, coaches, therapists, musicians or specialists in almost any area of expertise? This is the theme of the May/June 2011 issue of Psychotherapy Networker Magazine. The focus is on therapy but the emphasis is broader. And the lead article especially is worth reading carefully.

The authors paint a bleak, research supported picture of our work as mental health professionals. We work long hours, give unselfishly, and strive for excellence. Almost all survey respondents report that they are better than average.  In one study, only 4 percent considered themselves average; none viewed themselves as below average. Most believe they’re getting better but there is little research data to back this up. A similar picture emerges from studies of business executives, chess players and probably golfers, musicians, pastors and teachers. Practice does not make perfect, especially practice without feedback and community.

The Networker articles all argue that we grow to become excellent when we align with other practitioners to interact, challenge and learn from one another. These “communities of practice” may begin spontaneously or informally but they involve practitioners in any field who commit to the premise that “we learn more, accomplish more, and become better at something through working together—sharing information and resources, supporting, encouraging, teaching and challenging one another.” These communities become “cultures of excellence.” Their participants become better practitioners, performers, and professionals. You can try to improve on your own but you are much more likely to achieve excellence and high competence levels if you align with like minded colleagues. Coincidentally, Harvard Business Review (June 2011) has a similar message in an article on excellence. What are some characteristics of excellence building communities? The participants:

  • Commit to growing in excellence and partnering with colleagues
  • Learn to trust one another
  • Are honest about sharing insecurities or mistakes in their work
  • Ask questions and commit to helping other participants
  • Consistently evaluate their work. Clients who gave feedback after every session “reached clinically significant change nearly four times more than non-feedback clients.”

These conclusions are sobering to a solo performer like me. How does it impact you? Please comment.


  1. I totally agree with these articles. It’s hard to have an accurate picture of ourselves when we are our only frame of reference. I am better than average, according to what standard?
    I also think that communities of people working to achieve similar goals allow us to keep current with new developments in our fields and in related fields. There is so much information available that it is difficult to keep up with all the reading if one were to have to do it alone. And that does not allow for reflection or processing time. However, doing so in community means that we can rub off on each other, share information and not need to be a specialist in every area. That reduces a lot of pressure.
    Sharing with like minded others also keeps us from being too isolated ourselves…a danger in fields where we give so much to help others that we may want to just cocoon in our off times…but doing so puts us in the position of giving and rarely receiving, a dangerous imbalance if we want to be whole people.


  2. Very good article. Aligning with like minded colleagues (similar area of work) IS the best way to go. I work solo as well, in a very narrow field, and acknowledge those that went before me. Like ‘iron sharpening iron’. But how do you let others into the ‘heart’ of your modus operendi / skills developed over many years, only to have them drain you of your expertise in knowledge and presentation …. and then do not even acknowledge you in public as they do their ‘dance’.? When you stand on the backs of others, who went before you, you can sure look tall. How do you establish the trust that needs to be ‘active’ and not just beautifully articulated? So that truthful, unselfish betterment can occur and be achnowledged, respected and appreciated.


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