The Class Act Approach

“They are a class act,” is a phrase used to describe somebody who consistently performs brilliantly and also adds that touch of class.

The singer produces a memorable encore. The victor behaves generously, whilst the loser makes a gracious speech. Nelson Mandela turned away from violence and personally thanked his warders when leaving Robbins Island.

Looking back, can you think of when you did superb work and added that touch of class? What were the principles you followed? How can you follow these principles – plus add other skills – to add that touch of class in the future?

How to become a class act? One approach is to start by choosing a specific activity where you stand a chance of becoming a class act. You may want to choose one where:

You are in your element – at ease and yet able to excel;

You move through the stages of doing work that is effective, excellent and extraordinary.

A singer may have this ability when performing certain kinds of songs but not others. A footballer may have this ability when playing in one position but not another. A counsellor may have this ability when working with certain kinds of clients but not others.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to complete the following sentences.

Imagine that you have chosen to focus on a specific activity. Here are some steps you may consider on the road to doing your best.


Character is the foundation of success. Looking at the activity in which you aim to excel, do you have the character to deliver the goods? Do you have the right drive, discipline and determination?

A salesperson must have the drive to hit financial targets. An actor must have the resilience to overcome rejection. An athlete must have the discipline to train every day.

There are many models for exploring where you may have the characteristics for becoming a class act. One approach is to focus on a specific activity where you demonstrate calmness, clarity and the ability to deliver concrete results. Let’s explore these themes.


Great workers often feel calm in the situations where they excel. Establishing clarity, they then do their best to deliver the desired results.

The paramedic stays calm when arriving at the scene of the accident. Seeing the whole picture, they recognise what must be done to help people recover. Picking their way through the wreckage, they take the necessary steps towards saving lives.

Where do you experience something like this feeling? You may be facilitating a one-to-one session, leading a team, tackling a particular kind of problem or doing another activity.

Going into the situation, you feel calm. You feel also alive, alert and able to make a positive contribution. Looking at the situation, you ask:

“What is happening?”

You see both the big picture and the small details. You use your personal radar to see patterns. Extrapolating these patterns, you anticipate what could happen.


Stepping back, you focus on what you can and can’t control in the situation. You then move on to establish clarity by asking:

“What are the real results to achieve?”

Settling on the goals, you list these in order of priority. You consider the possible options for going forward together with the consequences of each option.

Casting your ideas wider, you look for potential creative solutions. You ask:

“What are the key strategies to follow that will give the greatest chance of success?”

Concrete Results

You then move on to the next stage. Committing to your chosen course of action, you perform superb work.

You are fully present – yet at the same time able to be both helicoptering and hands-on. You then do your best to deliver the goods

Calmness, clarity and concrete results is a good starting point. But becoming a class act may call for other qualities. These may include having a positive attitude, encouraging others, being resilient or other characteristics.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. Bearing in mind that activity in which you want to become a class act, describe the following things.


Character is a good starting point but a person must also have the required competence. This calls for having the right combination of strengths, strategic thinking and skills.

Chefs must have a natural feeling for food and have a good palate. Trouble-shooters must be able to quickly get to the heart of the matter and make good strategic decisions. Carpenters must have the right skills to produce works of craftsmanship.

Great workers continue to develop. Let’s look at one approach to making this happen.

The Dreyfus Model  

Hubert and Stuart Dreyfus studied superb practitioners in many fields. Here is the model they created that describes the stages a person goes through to progress from being a novice to an expert.

Here are the descriptions they use to describe each stage of the model.


They have little or no experience. They have little situational perception or discretionary judgement. They have a rigid adherence to rules.

Advanced Beginner

They start trying tasks on their own. They have difficulty troubleshooting. They want information fast. They can place some advice in the context required. They use guidelines but without holistic understanding.


They develop conceptual models. They are able to deal with crowdedness. They develop conscious planning and routines. They troubleshoot on their own and seek out expert advice. They see actions in terms of long-term plans and goals. 


They are guided by maxims but apply these to current situations. They see situations holistically and see what is important. They self-correct and learn from the experience of others. They make quicker and better decisions that achieve success. 


They transcend rules, guidelines and maxims. They work primarily on intuition based on deep understanding. They sometimes return to analytic approaches used in novel or problematic situations. They have a vision of what is possible and deliver it.

Imagine that you are helping a person to go through some of these steps. One of the key factors is to help them to manage crowdedness.

Some people may feel comfortable managing complexity in certain activities, but may get thrown off-course in other areas. The slightest complication or setback can lead to them feeling burdened. This highlights the following factors.

Some people who are good at a specific activity may naturally be able to manage crowdedness in this particular activity; 

Some people may be able to add to their repertoire of skills for managing crowdedness in a particular activity; 

Some people will be good at managing crowdedness in some activities but often have difficulties in other areas.  

Great workers have the ability to cut through crowdedness in the activities where they excel. They can deal with masses of information – and many things happening at once – in situations that may confuse other people.

Different people demonstrate this skill in different situations. They may have it when solving technical problems, helping people who have emotional challenges, dealing with particular kinds of crises or whatever.

Such workers often have a strong feeling for the activity. They have a framework for making sense of the information, clarifying what is important and then pursuing their chosen strategy.

People can learn tools for dealing with crowdedness in the areas where they feel uncomfortable. Sometimes they can do this by themselves. They can identify the triggers that lead to them feeling out of control, getting angry or feeling overwhelmed.

They can develop a ritual for buying time to think. They can clarify the options for going forward – including the pluses and minuses of each option. They can then pursue their chosen strategy for achieving the desired results.

Some people may need help to take this step. If appropriate, you can help them learn how to manage their emotions. You can help them to develop their own rituals for taking control in the situation and working to achieve success.

Let’s return your chosen activity. What are the kinds of competence you need to demonstrate? How can you keep developing and adding to your skills?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to complete the following sentences.

Consistently High Standards

Great workers have a strong work ethic. This is because they love their work. They therefore aim to deliver consistently high standards whether they are performing at the Village Hall or the Carnegie Hall.

They believe in honouring their work. Professional to their fingertips, they aim to do the right things in the right way every day. Different people develop consistency in different ways. Let’s explore one model.

They Aim To Get
A Good Grounding 

People who want to build on their gifts often aim to get a good grounding. They do this whether they aim to go be good at nursing, education, football management, performing on stage or doing another activity.

Great actors, for example, often describe the importance of them playing repertory theatre. They developed their skills by performing comedies, tragedies, musicals and other plays.

They Aim To Learn From Good
Models And Get Good Experiences

Great workers often talk about learning from superb performers. These may have been senior professionals, coaches, mentors or other people who acted as good models.

People often aim to emulate people they admire. They may take this approach when developing as songwriters, teachers, footballers or doing other kinds of work.

Great workers often focus on the field of work where they can use their gifts. They may then try many different activities in this field before specialising in a particular niche.

People who aim to go into the caring professions, for example, may gather experience by working in care homes, hospitals and hospices. This can help them to settle on their chosen path.

Such workers have often had a background of good experiences, even if some of these may have actually been bad experiences. They translated the difficulties into a good experience by learning from the challenges they faced.

They Aim To Keep Developing, Maintain
High Standards And Do Good Work

Great workers learn skills for self-development. Some ask themselves the following questions after an experience.

What were the lessons I learned from the experience? What was good about it? What was challenging?

What were the things I did well? What could I have done better and how? How can I apply these lessons in the future? 

Such workers develop the habit of continuous improvement. This is a skill they continue to use throughout the years.

Great workers often have a pattern of starting to produce good work in their early careers. They may do this when working as a writer, chef, teacher, carpenter or in another role. They then begin to develop consistency.

Young footballers, for example, sometimes produce good performance but then fall away. Some commit themselves to their careers and continue to develop. This can result in them beginning to deliver consistently good performances.

Let’s return to your chosen activity. What are the consistently high standards you need to deliver? How can you keep delivering these day after day?


Success calls for employing the right creativity at the right time to get the right results. Creativity comes in many different forms.

Class acts have great personal radar in their potential field. They quickly see patterns and see the potential picture of success. They seem to know what will happen before it happens.

They have a wide professional repertoire. They have the strengths, strategies and skills required to deliver the goods. They then employ their radar and repertoire to pursue their chosen strategy towards delivering the right results.

There are many approaches to being creative. One approach is to keep your eyes on the goal rather than the obstacles. It is then to find creative ways to reach the goal.

A teacher described this model during a lecture I attended in the early 1970s. He gave the following description.

“There are creative thinkers and conventional thinkers.

“Creative thinkers spend a lot of time clarifying the What. They then find imaginative ways to reach the goals.  

“Conventional thinkers quickly jump to the How. They spend lots of time analysing obstacles. They can sometimes become dispirited and feel that the problems are impossible to solve.

“Creative thinkers often follow the shape of a heart. They keep their eyes on the prize and think of creative ways forward. They go around obstacles to reach the goal.”


During the 1970s I got the chance to work with entrepreneurs and other creative people. Such people did not follow the cliché of thinking outside the box. They did not recognise there was a box.

The creative people I met used different approaches to making things happen. One approach they had in common, however, was to focus on the real results to achieve.

They did not keep banging their heads on the barriers. They went around barriers by following the shape of a heart. They kept following the creative art to achieve their goals.

Let’s return to your chosen activity. What are the kinds of creativity that are required to do great work? Which do you have at the moment? How can you keep adding to your repertoire?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to complete the following sentences.


Great workers keep doing the basics and then add the brilliance. Sometimes they reach the goal by adding that touch of class.

Great sprinters employ their talent and technique to get in sight of the tape. They then flow, focus and finish. This sometimes involves taking the following step.

Many people have the natural ability to get to 7/10 in a specific area. They may do this as an athlete, singer or in another professional role. But then comes the hard part – the exponential climb towards 10/10.

Great workers also aim to make the exponential climb from 7/10 to 10/10. This is the equivalent of going from county champion to national champion to continental champion to world champion.

Some people find they can do this occasionally, but then comes the hard part. It is to perform superbly on a regular basis.

Great workers play to their strengths and follow their successful style of working. They put themselves into positions where they can take their approach. Being realists, they also find ways to manage the consequences of their weaknesses.

They build on their strengths. They also keep developing their repertoire of strategic thinking skills and the practical skills. They aim to perform superb work and produce peak performances. They then repeat the cycle to keep doing great work.

Sometimes people reach their goals by adding that touch of class. Sometimes this can be spectacular. Sometimes it can be a simple act of kindness. Sometimes it can be something that gives people a positive memory for life.

Nelson Mandela demonstrated this quality on many occasions. Here is one instance I heard about from the staff of a London hotel where he stayed. He showed a personal touch that they all remembered.

When departing at 6.00 in the morning, Nelson saw 20 staff lining up to form an aisle towards the door. Though being asked to leave quickly by his security guards, he took the time to say goodbye to each of the twenty staff members.

Giving each person his famous two-handed handshake, he looked them in the eyes and said:

“Thank you for looking after me.”

There are many models for doing great work. One approach is to focus on a specific activity where you have the ability to excel. You can keep developing the character and consistently high standards required to do superb work. You can then add that touch of class.

If you wish, try tackling the final exercise on this theme. This invites you to complete the following sentences.

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