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Who Kidnapped Excellence?: What Stops Us from Giving and Being Our Best

Who Kidnapped Excellence?: What Stops Us from Giving and Being Our Best

by Harry Paul

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Most companies talk about excellence, but what does excellence really mean? What specific attitudes and practices lead to excellence? Drawing on years of study and decades of experience, authors Harry Paul, John Britt, and Ed Jent have zeroed in on five core qualities of excellence. In this entertaining and enlightening book, they tell how to give and be your best in


Most companies talk about excellence, but what does excellence really mean? What specific attitudes and practices lead to excellence? Drawing on years of study and decades of experience, authors Harry Paul, John Britt, and Ed Jent have zeroed in on five core qualities of excellence. In this entertaining and enlightening book, they tell how to give and be your best in each of these five critical dimensions and foster excellence in your organization and in your life. The book begins with a crime being committed: Excellence (personified) has been kidnapped, and Leadership assembles Excellence’s team (Passion, Flexibility, Communication, Competency, and Ownership) and challenges them to work together to get their Excellence back. And who is the culprit? Has Average kidnapped Excellence and replaced Excellence’s team with his own: N. Different, N. Ept, N. Flexible, Miss Communication, and Poser? A mysterious ransom note sparks the struggle between Average and Excellence. Integrated into this tale of organizational excellence is the story of Dave, a delivery man. The kidnapping causes Dave to contemplate his own life and relationships in a way that makes the paths of personal and organizational excellence cross and intertwine. Who Kidnapped Excellence? is a parable that helps organizations and individuals achieve their best in every aspect of their lives.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“As a believer in the philosophy outlined in Harry Paul’s book Fish!, I feel Who Kidnapped Excellence? has the same potential to have a profound impact with its straightforward, plainspoken message that will resonate with everyone from the frontline to the executive office, at work and in one’s personal life. I had a few aha moments myself that made me see my own personal situation in a new light and provided a framework to lead my current team from good to great.”
—John D. Smith, regional president and general manager in the hospitality and entertainment industry

“The privilege of a lifetime is to be the best of who you are and to exercise that privilege every day. Who Kidnapped Excellence? will show you how!”
—Rick Peterson, Director of Pitching Development for the Baltimore Orioles and Pitching Coach for the Oakland A’s during the Moneyball era

“What stops you from giving and getting your best? Read Who Kidnapped Excellence? and find out. The key principles and practical applications in this book are life changing.”
—Donald D. Snyder, former Dean, William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

“An exciting management thriller that can be of immense value to change agents in the workplace. Thank you, Harry, John, and Ed, for authoring this wonderful book on being and delivering the best.”
—N. S. Rajan, Member, Group Executive Council, and Group Chief Human Resources Officer, Tata Sons

“To be excellent in our professional and personal lives is a choice. The authors make their points about achieving excellence using a fun ‘whodunit’ crime story that most of us will relate to. I highly recommend this book to all those seeking to develop or sustain excellence in their lives.”
—J. Talbot (Tal) Land, former Healthcare Consulting Partner, Ernst & Young

“A fun and easy read that simply addresses the critical need for company cultures to never take their eyes off Excellence—as it can quickly disappear before you know it!”
—Jon Headlee, President, Ten Adams, a health-care marketing and culture firm

Product Details

Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
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Who Kidnapped Excellence?

What Stops Us From Giving and Being Our Best


Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2014 Harry Paul, John Britt, and Ed Jent
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62656-087-1


Excellence Kidnapped

As Dave drove to his first delivery of the day, a sense of foreboding came over him when he saw in the distance a flashing red-and-blue glow cutting through the morning fog. When he got closer, he could see police cars sitting askew in front of Gorman-Scott Inc., their driver's-side doors still open. He got out of his delivery van and rushed toward the front doors to talk with Darnell, the corporate assistant, and see what was going on.

A policeman suddenly stepped out of the morning mist into Dave's path and said sharply, "Just a minute. Who are you, and where do you think you are going?" "What's happened?" Dave asked, both concerned and excited. "Is everyone all right?"

"I'll ask the questions here," the policemen replied. Dave noticed another policeman putting up the yellow "Do Not Cross" crime tape so familiar from television crime shows. Eyeing Dave suspiciously, the first policeman asked again, more loudly this time, "So, who are you?"

"My name is Dave. I'm a deliveryman. I've been delivering packages here for years."

"I noticed you were limping. Is it from a recent injury?" the policeman asked.

"No!" Dave replied in surprise. "It's an old injury."

What he didn't tell the policemen was that his limp was the result of his high-tech titanium prosthetic. He had lost his right leg below the knee in a roadside bombing during his Gulf War tour. Dave didn't like to talk about his injury, and he didn't allow it to slow him down. A former marine, he had gained a reputation as an outstanding deliveryman employed by one of the world's largest package-delivery services.

Frustrated, Dave said, "Look, I have friends in there. I just want to make sure—" He was interrupted by a voice calling to them. Looking up, he saw Darnell in the front entrance, waving to him.

"Officer," she yelled, "let him in! He's OK. I'll be responsible for him."

Still looking at Dave suspiciously, the officer finally stepped aside.

As Dave and Darnell walked together toward the administrative office, he asked, "What's happened? Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," she replied. Then, glancing around as if frightened to be overheard, she whispered, "Our Excellence has been kidnapped."

"Excellence was kidnapped? What are you talking about?" Dave asked, confused.

"The ransom note was on the administrative conference room table. Found it myself this morning."

"Ransom note?" Dave was so focused on Darnell that he didn't notice a man and woman standing near the administrative office, and he walked right into them. "I am so sorry," he said.

"No problem," the man replied.

As he resumed walking with Darnell, Dave said, "They seem concerned."

Looking back, she said, "Oh, that's Jared and Jenna."

"So you were telling me about the ransom note."

"Yeah, a ransom note," she said. As they reached her desk, Darnell opened the top drawer, unfolded a piece of paper, and handed it to Dave. "I made a copy," she said.

"The police have the original."

Dave took the paper and read:

We have taken your Excellence. If you ever want to see your Excellence again, open your eyes & pay the Ransom.

Dave turned the paper over, expecting to see more, but it was blank. There was nothing else to explain what the message could mean.

Just then, a man entered the administrative office suite wearing a wrinkled, tan overcoat, looking as if he hadn't slept or shaved in days, and smelling of cigar smoke. He flashed a badge and stated curtly, "I'm Agent McNally. I need to interview Leadership."

McNally was short and stocky but exuded an authoritative, no-nonsense attitude.

"Yes, sir," Darnell replied. "Would you like to use the conference room? I'll call Leadership in right away." McNally nodded. She pointed to a door on their right and said, "This way to the conference room, sir."

He left the room, and before Darnell could follow him, Dave tapped her lightly on the shoulder.

"You mind if I sit down for a few minutes?" he asked quietly. "Leg's aching a bit," he added, rubbing his knee.

"Not at all," she replied. "Make yourself at home."

Dave sat down in the comfortable chair behind the desk in Darnell's cubicle. He slipped off his prosthesis and massaged his leg. Sighing deeply, he tried to relax his shoulders and neck. He was confused about what was happening at Gorman-Scott Inc., where he had made deliveries for years, but he felt relieved that no one he knew seemed in danger at present. As for Excellence, Dave couldn't place her and wasn't sure if he had ever met her.

After a few minutes, he heard the sounds of people entering the adjacent room and chairs being pulled out as Leadership, Agent McNally, and Darnell took their seats around the conference table.

"McNally's the name," the agent began in a deep voice, "Agent John McNally."

As Dave heard Darnell and Leadership finish the introductions, he soon realized that he was in what could be an awkward position. He didn't want to stand up and leave, because he feared that the sound going through the open door of the conference room would interrupt the conversation that had just started. And as he sat there, he became very interested in what was being said. Part of him knew he should just risk it and get up and go, but he found himself staying in spite of his intention to leave, hoping that part of the ensuing mystery would be solved. Who was this Excellence, and why had she been kidnapped?

In the conference room, McNally asked, "How long has Excellence worked here?"

"Must be four—no five—years," Darnell answered. "I was at the first meeting Leadership had with Excellence. She came with glowing recommendations and an impressive résumé."

McNally asked, "So when did you become aware that your Excellence was missing?"

Leadership said, "We found the ransom note this morning. Hadn't realized that she was missing."

Darnell cleared her throat and said hesitantly, "I took the liberty of copying it. The officer who first arrived has the original, but here is the copy. I was careful not to leave any fingerprints or touch the original."

There was a long, pregnant pause; Dave wondered if the agent was looking at Darnell, possibly with suspicion, and he felt anxious for his friend.

Then he heard McNally slowly read the ransom note aloud: " 'We have taken your Excellence. If you ever want to see your Excellence again, open your eyes and pay the ransom.' How do you think the kidnappers got access to her? Do you know what 'open your eyes' is referring to?"

Darnell answered, "No, I don't understand it at all. I found the note around 7:30 this morning. I came into this room to make sure it was ready for an eight a.m. meeting, and it was right there on the table."

"Has anyone contacted you, giving you further information, threatening you, or asking for money to return your Excellence?" McNally inquired.

"No," Leadership and Darnell replied in unison.

"Soooo," McNally said, "can you describe this Excellence? Does she have any distinguishing characteristics? Can you give me any information that will help me to recognize her?"

Darnell and Leadership looked at each other. Darnell turned to McNally and stated, "You know, she's the best."

He stared blankly at her, and before he could put together a response, Leadership stated, "We think it would be best if we told you about her team. Excellence spends a lot of time with them."


"Our Excellence has a very close-knit, important team of five," Leadership replied in a tone that seemed to suggest that McNally should already have this information. "There's Passion, Competency, Flexibility, Communication, and Ownership."

Suddenly, the conference room phone jangled loudly. Darnell jumped, and her hand flew to her mouth to stifle a scream. She pulled herself together quickly and picked up the phone. "Gorman-Scott Inc.—this is Darnell," she said. She listened quietly for a moment. Then she handed the phone to Leadership.

After listening to the caller for a few moments, Leadership stated, "Be right there," and hung up. "Something's come up," Leadership said apologetically. "Sorry, but this needs to be taken care of now. Darnell, please brief Agent McNally on Excellence's team." Looking at the agent, he said, "Anything you need, McNally, just let me know."

McNally shot Leadership a suspicious glance, wondering what could be more important than their Excellence being kidnapped. "Please don't leave the building, Leadership," he said firmly. "I may want to speak with you again."

Leadership nodded and left the room. Rushing out of the administrative office, he didn't even notice Dave sitting in Darnell's chair.

Dave glanced around. Seeing no one, he surreptitiously moved the chair closer to the door. "In for a penny, in for a pound," he said to himself.

"Well, Passion," he heard Darnell begin, "she's quite interesting."

"How so?" asked McNally.

"She is always so positive. Her main job is to inspire our employees, to make sure they know how important their jobs are and that they have a voice. Passion's role is to help our customers see that we are enthusiastic about our work, about what we produce, and that we ... well, that we care!"

"Must be pretty energetic," McNally said.

"Oh, she is," Darnell said, nodding vigorously.

After a pause, she said, "Next is Competency, who is a key member of Excellence's team. She ensures that all of our employees are skilled in their work."

"Sounds like a full-time job," McNally offered.

"Yes, it absolutely is," Darnell agreed. "Because if our employees aren't skilled in their work, then the products and services we deliver won't meet the customers' expectations."

"Doesn't seem like rocket science," he said evenly.

Darnell stated, perhaps a bit defensively, "When most people talk about competency, they are referencing the technical skills of a particular job, but our Competency is also charged with helping our employees with the interpersonal skills so necessary to delivering great customer service."

"Got it," McNally said, writing in his notebook. "So, we have Passion and Competency. Check."

"Yes," Darnell said. "Next is Flexibility, and he is a key team member, too. Our business is constantly changing. We have new technology, new processes, new competitors, and a crazy economy. It's easy for us to become victims of our own success—to become stagnant and complacent. With so many changes, we can't get caught in the 'That's the way we've always done it' trap. We need policies, procedures, and standardization when it makes sense, but we must have Flexibility so that we are prepared to respond to unique customer situations when they occur. You see, Excellence ties all this together."

"Remind me," McNally said, "what is your position here?"

"Corporate assistant."

"You seem to know a lot about this business for a corporate assistant."

Darnell smiled and said, "I've been around a long time."

"Leadership mentioned Communication," McNally stated.

"Oh yes. She's a key member of the team. She makes sure everyone understands clearly what's expected of them, but that's not all. She has taught us a very important principle: that we must listen to everyone, especially our customers. It's amazing. We have learned that if we carefully listen to everyone—customers, employees, and others we deal with—then they can actually help us improve our business."

"They need to give you a raise," McNally stated, chuckling.

"That would be nice!" Darnell exclaimed. "I am in a position where I get to be closely involved with Leadership, management, and the line employees, so I have a unique opportunity to see things from several perspectives."

She paused to think for a moment and then continued, "Ownership—he is Excellence's other team member. He's the best! He helps us work toward a culture in which everyone takes 100 percent responsibility for their job. His role is to remind us of this. He helps us to see that sometimes we need to do things that are not necessarily in our job description but are the right course of action to take at the time. Ownership is supposed to be here, but he hasn't shown up yet."

"So, where is Excellence's team right now?" McNally asked. "Where are Passion, Competency, Flexibility, Communication, and Ownership?"

At that moment, the outer door to the conference room closed quietly. Surprised and a bit frustrated, Dave wondered if McNally had noticed that someone could be listening to the conversation. He rolled his chair closer but could hear only the low hum of voices.

He continued to sit there, lost in thought. Suddenly, he realized that his uneasiness sitting there outside the office was not just from the fear of being caught eavesdropping. This conversation about Passion, Competency, Flexibility, Communication, and Ownership had triggered something in his memory. He now knew that subconsciously he had begun questioning his own level of excellence at work and at home.

Dave was startled when the conference room door opened, and he watched Agent McNally close his notebook and walk out of the administrative suite, not even giving Dave a glance. Soon Darnell walked into the office and up to her desk.

Dave jumped up out of the chair and said with his cheeks reddening, "I'm sorry, Darnell. I probably should have left a long time ago or at least moved away from the door. I have to admit I was interested and heard everything until the door closed. It was really impressive the way you could tell him about Excellence's team and what they do here."

Darnell blushed and said reassuringly, "No worries. I know you won't talk about this to anyone else. You have been coming and going from here for a long time now. I'm sure you've probably overheard many of our secrets."

Relieved, Dave ventured, "So what happened after the door closed? Did he tell you what they are going to do to help you find Excellence?"

"I can tell you exactly what Agent McNally said." Mimicking the agent's low voice, she said, "Well, Darnell, I have been around organizational crime a long time, and I can tell you that you have a huge problem here. But it's not a police problem. It's a company problem and something your Leadership has to deal with."

"And?" Dave asked.

"And he left."

Incredulous, Dave said, "That's all he had to offer you?"

"That's it."

Dave shook his head and then looked at his watch. "I wish there was something I could do to help you, but I'd better get moving, too. I've got my own excellence to deliver," he said with a smile. "Hey, keep me informed, and let me know if there is any way I can help." He turned and went out the door.

As Dave drove away, he began to think deeply about the excellence, or the lack thereof, in his own life. Little did he know how this company's experience would influence his own personal journey to excellence.

Excellence's Team


Inspires everyone with energy, enthusiasm, and caring.

Passion's job is to create that zest inside us for life that causes us to smile even when circumstances are against us, to go that extra mile, and to see our life and work as an opportunity, not something we have to get through.


Ensures everyone has all the skills needed to do their best.

Competency is important not just in the technical aspects of our work and lives but also in our relationships with one another.


Helps us respond to unique situations whenever they occur.

The only thing that remains constant is that everything changes. Flexibility understands this and helps employees to deal with and manage these changes in a practical and professional manner.


Clearly communicates roles and expectations.

Perception is everything, and perception is created by Communication. Communication respects that there is a delicate balance between listening and talking.


Ensures everyone gives their best and takes 100 percent responsibility for their jobs.

Ownership is a personal value that promotes the knowledge that we have power and influence when we accept our responsibilities. Even in the face of constraints and barriers, we have the choice to operate using our judgment.


The Demand for the Return of Excellence

Leadership called an emergency meeting of Excellence's team. From their conversation as they waited for the meeting to start, it was evident that the team was in denial about Excellence's kidnapping.

"I thought I saw Excellence just last week," Competency said.

"So did I," Flexibility added without much enthusiasm.

Leadership called for silence and then addressed the team. "As much as we would like to believe that Excellence is still here with us, we obviously have a large problem.

Looking more closely at Passion, Leadership noticed that she didn't look at all like herself. Her normal vibrant color had faded—in fact, she was pale. Competency looked dazed, and Flexibility appeared stiff. Communication was silent. Ownership was missing.

After a long, awkward silence, Competency said, "I'm confused. What do they mean, 'If you ever want to see your Excellence again'? Do they expect us to pay a ransom for something we already have?"

Passion said in a voice that seemed somehow disconnected, "This is probably just a hoax. If not, let's just throw some money at the problem, and everybody will get what they want." She added, "And who would do something like this?"

Excerpted from Who Kidnapped Excellence? by HARRY PAUL, JOHN BRITT, ED JENT. Copyright © 2014 Harry Paul, John Britt, and Ed Jent. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Harry Paul has over thirty years’ experience in business, including management training and consulting, sales, distribution, product development, and international operations. He is the coauthor of six books, including Revved! (with Ross Reck) and the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller Fish!
John Britt is director of healthcare solutions at Kforce. He has been assisting large organizations’ leadership and management with change for over twenty years. He is the coauthor, with Ken Blanchard, of Who Killed Change?
Ed Jent has been a minister of education for the past twenty-six years and has served in Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee, and Texas.

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