Intensity is the price of excellence

“Intensity is the price of excellence” – Warren Buffett

What an interesting word – Intensity.  For some, the word implies a measure of obsession.  For others, it suggests hard work and effort.  But the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and the nuances are important to understand. 

I’ve been accused of being an intense person more than once in my life.  Maybe it’s how I’m wired, but I’ve always believed in doing things with energy, focus, and purpose.  Otherwise, why bother.  Yes, there are times in life when we must do things we really don’t like, but only going through the motions takes longer than doing it focus and effort.  And so I tend to bring intensity in most everything I do.

Now to be fair, that’s not always a good thing.  Take for example my golf game.  To be blunt, I stink!  After years and years of playing I’m still carrying an 18 handicap.  And I know exactly why.  I can’t seem to approach the game with anything less than full intensity.  Every swing is over analyzed – my stance, my swing plane, my hands, even my follow through. And instead of letting my muscle memory take over, I end up in the woods or the lake instead of the fairway.  What’s worse, I can’t seem to shake the frustration from the last swing which generally makes the next even worse.

But in most cases intensity is a good thing.  In our family lives, we talk about the importance of intensity in relationships – particularly for our loved ones.  In sports (ignoring my prior golf example), we respect those players that bring intensity to their play.  And in leadership, intensity is no less important.

I looked up the word “Intensity” on line to see how various sources defined the word.  In one example (from www.dictionary.com), it’s defined as great energy, strength, concentration, vehemence, etc., as of activity, thought, or feeling.  Another source (Cambridge dictionary) was more simple – the quality of being extreme in strength or force.  Either way, the point is clear – a level of energy, focus, and concentration that transcends traditional ‘hard work’.

What I also found interesting were the scientific references to the word.  They define “intensity” in terms of light, or heat, or energy – in other words, an output.  What’s important about the scientific references was the relativity of distance between objects to its ‘intensity’.  In other words, the farther you are from an ‘intense’ object, the less you feel it’s ‘intensity’.  Like the sun – it’s really hot and bright (thus intense) up close, but the farther you move from it, the less you feel its heat and see its light.

In leadership, intensity follows those same scientific principles.  That is because leadership is as much about influence and impact as it is about individual effort.  The farther removed you are from an intense leader, the less you feel their intensity.  And thus the less influence that is exerted.  Whether that’s at the senior most levels, mid management, or even at the line levels, intensity MUST be replicated if all of the team is to benefit from its energy.  

So the reflection for all of us is a question of intensity.  Do we as individuals bring intensity in our efforts, or do we simply do what is needed?  Do we as leaders show the level of intensity in our effort that emanates the energy our teams need to be properly motivated?  It’s not a matter of working hard, it’s a matter of focusing great energy, strength, concentration, and vehemence in those activities that matter most.

I’ll close with a reference again to Warren Buffett’s quote – “Intensity is the price of excellence”.  As we strive to lead our teams to a measure of excellence, let us not forget the importance of intensity in that journey.

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