“Excellence or perfection? One leads you to be your personal best, the other drives you to burnout.”

On February 15, 1995 the worst accident in U.S. Army Ranger Training School history took place. Four young soldiers, all in their twenties, died of hypothermia after struggling for several days through chest deep fifty-degree swamp water on the grounds of Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Their leaders made decisions that night that were either naive, uninformed, or just plain stupid resulting in the loss of life.

Ranger Training is known as the protector of a special mentality that says, “Nothing is too hard.” That’s what makes this training so special and it’s graduates some of America’s finest leaders both in the Army and later in life. But toughness must always be tempered with prudence.

Holding people to a higher standard than they would hold themselves is the only way to determine their potential. However, as a leader you must also know your people better than they know themselves, a responsibility too many leaders avoid, ignore, or take lightly.

There is a fine line between being determined and being driven. The same as the difference between excellence and perfection. Determined people always strive to go beyond what they think is possible but not beyond informed and tolerable limits.

Excellence is the determination to do the very best with the tools and opportunities you’ve been given. Perfectionism is being driven to go beyond any sustainable return on investment and breaks the spirit. It also caused the loss of life of those young Army Ranger Trainees. Great leaders know the difference and know how to maintain that very delicate balance.

Leading with a spirit of excellence should not mean driving your team beyond their capabilities, but exploiting every ounce of their potential. People will never give all they can give until you ask them for more than they think they have to give.

However, keep in mind life is full of distractions, conflicting priorities and out of balance emotions. No matter your leadership context, most people on your team are living cluttered and messy lives. Your leadership either adds to or lightens their load.

Be a leader of excellence before demanding it of others. There are just as many sick leaders driving themselves beyond informed limitations as there are sick and injured warriors in the trenches of every organization. Great leaders demand excellence, but do so within a prevailing culture of respect, encouragement and solid leadership principles.

Excellence is not a gift from God or anyone else. It must be passionately pursued. Everyone has God-given gifts, talents and desires. However, each individual must cultivate them to excellence. If you are given to slothfulness, accepting second best, or masking your lack of effort with excuses, you are a liability and not an asset to your team.

If you are a leader the sooner you resign the better. Get yourself straightened out and let your team blossom following someone else in the meantime. If you are team member, do the team a favor. Fix your attitude and performance or find another place to collect an unearned check. The team may even contribute to your severance pay.