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Stretch, Excellence, and Leadership



“I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it.”



--Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) in On the Waterfront




Tragedy.  Utter personal human tragedy.  That’s what the quote above reveals about the central character in the 1954 Elia Kazan film classic.


Every individual person has potential which may be fulfilled or neglected.  And the discovery too late, after the opportunity has passed, of unrealized fulfillment is the deepest of human tragedy. 


When purpose, principles, and values are matched to human potential and result in commitment we have the measure of personal quality.  This is completely independent of time or achievement.


Stretch is the personal acknowledgment that one does not know his or her potential limits but commits to quality anyway.  Individuals who embrace stretch achieve human excellence whether or not their activities succeed or fail.


Human potentials, associated quality, stretch and excellence may be classified in many abstract dimensions, such as morality, athletic ability, business prowess, family, intellect.  However, a person is one, not “many.”  This is the meaning of integrity.  A person has but one spirit, and “compartmentalized” excellence is an oxymoron.  Performance may be different in different areas.


Leadership is the ability of a person to inspire excellence in others.  All else follows: the affirmation of quality, stretch, commitment.  Leadership is, of course, the fulfillment of a human potential, and thus an example itself of the excellence it asks for in others.  We shouldn’t ask or expect leaders to have the “functional expertise” which they often inspire others to.   This is because true excellence is one, is universal, and does not come in varieties.

m. e. doherty


© 2002 Michael E. Doherty