Focus and Excellence

by  Mike Henry  |  Leadership Development

“Other men will make other violins, but no man shall make a better one.” Antonius Stradivarius

What type of work do you do?  I’ve done a variety of things.  In fact, sometimes I get caught up in what I’m doing so much that I stop doing what I do.  I become someone else, or I play the role of someone else, getting away from my strengths.  I’ve often said, “Just because I cleaned up the mess, that doesn’t mean I’m volunteering to be the janitor.” (My apologies to the administrative maintenance profession, but that’s how I felt at the time.)

This quote talks about two topics to me: Focus and Excellence.


Stradivarius made violins.  Yes, he did many other things I’m sure.  He played them, he probably taught others how to play them.  Maybe he also got involved in local government or his church or a charity.  I’m sure if he were alive now, he’d attend his grandchildren’s soccer games and make public appearances.  But his primary focus, his work and his legacy were wrapped up in making violins.  He had a singular focus.


And because of who he was, on the inside, he made the best violins.  So good in fact, that his last name is synonymous with quality.  According to Wikipedia, “The reputation of the Stradivarius is such that its name is frequently invoked as a standard of excellence in other unrelated fields (such as ships and cars); for example, the Bath Iron Works’ unofficial motto is ‘ A Bath boat is the Stradivarius of destroyers!'”

Core Values

Steve Keating on a webinar yesterday said that your core values are the values you would spend your time on if you were had no need to work.  Focus – ruthlessly identify, compare, force rank and eliminate your interests and passions and get down to your two or three core values.  Then practice and work to become excellent applying them.

A core value of mine is adding value in every relationship.  I want to put more into each relationship than I demand.  When I do that, I receive much.  Most of the rewards are intrinsic, built into the action rather than resulting from it.  There is great reward in giving more than you take.  Try it and see if you can prove me wrong.

At the same time, it’s convicting to me to say that only through focus can you achieve excellence. Rip away the things that are distracting you today and focus on what you do so you can do it better than anyone.

Care to go on record?

What are your core values?  Where do you want to become excellent?  Anything I can do to help?

Note: The webinar I referred to is part of the new member’s webinar series being offered to Supporting and Contributing partners of the Lead Change Group.  If you’d like to have access to the replays and join us for future webinars, consider supporting the Lead Change Group.

About The Author

Articles By mike-henry
Chief Instigator (Founder) of Lead Change Group and VP of IT for a mid sized technology company. Passionate about character-based leadership and making a positive difference.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Jen Kuhn  |  20 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Hi Mike,

I like your two leading ideas: focus and excellence. It seems one precedes the other. I’m currently reading Ruthless Focus by Thomas Hall and Wally Block. A simple concept, yet also a battle cry of sorts. As your example points out, all of us, much the same as Stradivarius have multiple areas vying for our attention. To give one attention does not necessarily imply less focus on another. I appreciate your mention and elaboration on Steve Keatings’ discussion of core values. Those are what can help determine our focus. Loss of core values can send us down a path of self-destruction or at minimum, a path of lesser value.
Thank you for the post,

Thomas Waterhouse  |  20 Aug 2010  |  Reply

This is a thought-provoking post Mike! I Tweeted my “core values” last year, and this is a good opportunity to share them.

“Simplicity” is one of my core values. It makes me feel good just to say it out loud. How about you?

“Excellence” is one of my core values. It frees me from artificial standards and judgment. I’m always good enough, and sometimes more!

My next core value is “transcendence”. I nurture hopes and dreams that exceed what seems practical or even possible! Are you a “transcendent”?

“Charity” is one of my core values. It loves others more that it loves self. May we always give more than we take!

My last core value is “serenity”. In its stillness, the truth speaks quietly. Be still, and know.

How can you help? Keep adding value through Lead Change. You’re touching lives in ways that you may never know… but know that you are! :)

Tara R. Alemany  |  20 Aug 2010  |  Reply

You most certainly are, Thomas! I love reading what you have to say, both here and elsewhere. Thanks for being a living example of your core values. There’s hope for us all! :-)

stephanie  |  20 Aug 2010  |  Reply

My first core value is very closely related to relationship building. It is trust.

My second core value is creativity withing the realm of thinking and learning.

My third core value is passion – be passionate very day and about everything you engage in.

Tara R. Alemany  |  20 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Mike, what a great post! I can’t help but to think… When I hear “Stradivarius” (kudos for being able to spell it!), it brings very specific thoughts to mind; excellence, brilliance, perfection. When people speak my name, what specific thoughts come to their minds? And, even more importantly, what thoughts do I WANT to have come to their minds? Once I know what I want people to associate with me, then I can begin the process of building that into my interactions with them as well as into my daily existence.

Thanks for the inspiration!

Georgia Feiste  |  21 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Mike – this is a great post, and something I’ve been looking at often over the last several years – always going back to check in again with my heart to see if my values are the same as they were previously.

My core values are truth, wisdom, love and forgiveness.

If I always seek the truth of every situation, I will gain insight to the underlying issues and will better understand what to do next. Truth creates clarity and focus.

Love and forgiveness give us the presence of mind to remember that we are human, and each of us is doing the best we can with what we know at the time. Continuous exploration and learning from books, experiences and, yes, mistakes, help us to become better. Love and forgiveness keep us from judgement, and clear the way for wisdom. .

Wisdom for me is knowing the next right step, even when I am unsure of the next ten. And trusting that my vision for the world (particularly our leadership) will pull me forward. It is core to my insatiable need to learn and share with others.

These core values, along with my gifts and talents are what make me credible to everyone with whom I work, play and live.

Mike Henry  |  22 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Georgia, thanks for the insight and discussion on values. I appreciate your mention of wisdom. That’s the area I challenge (and question) myself the most.


Chad Balthrop  |  07 Sep 2010  |  Reply

Mike and Georgia,

Great posts. I’ve always thought of wisdom as, “knowing what to do with what you know.” I heard about two great chess masters discussing what made them great. The younger chess master said, “A truly great master thinks at least 5 moves ahead.” The older, better player thoughtfully responds, “No. The greatest masters only think one move ahead. It’s just always the right move.”

This is wisdom, a remarkable core value to pursue and one that leads to focus and excellence! Thanks!

Simon Hay  |  23 Aug 2010  |  Reply

Hi Mike, my core values are faith, passion, and the expression of potential. I want my identity and work to be an evolving force. These things will make me happy and bring me peace. Underlying this drive has to respect and self awareness. Values are being compassion are being bulldozed by marketing. Too many people are selling and not acting or creating change.

I loved your post. Talk soon, Simon.

Join The Conversation