2018 Year in Review and Book Recommendations

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 17, Issue No. 9a
January 1, 2019

By Dan Coughlin


In the last article of each year I like to reflect and discern on what I took away from the past 12 months. I encourage you to do the same in your own life.


In my personal life, the most important, and most painful, moment was when my brother-in-law, Doug Bizer, passed away. Doug was probably the best example I’ve ever seen of not taking yourself or your life too seriously. He could find the humor in every situation. I often told him that his house in the Lake of the Ozarks was the most peaceful place on earth. Every time I went there I could truly relax and unwind. He always had a joke or a funny comment and a boat ride ready to offer. Miss you Doug!

Last week we celebrated my mom’s 90th birthday. Mom is a person of incredibly high integrity and honesty. Thank you, Mom, for everything you have done for me over the years. You’ve been truly amazing.


This was a fascinating year for me. I learned so much. Over the course of the year I served as an Executive Coach for 55 people, 35 in a one-on-one professional coaching relationship and 20 in a Group Coaching relationship, which is a new service that started in 2017. This included more than 400 conversations with people about what they wanted to achieve, what they were doing to try to achieve it, what they were doing that was effective and why it was effective, what they were doing that was not effective and why it was not effective, and what else they could be doing to be effective. It was an honor and privilege for me to get to work with all of them. They inspired me greatly.

In addition, I had the opportunity to teach seminars on individual, leadership, and team excellence for RE/MAX, Abbott, OPUS, Washington University’s Olin Business School’s Executive Education Program, HOKA ONE ONE Northern Arizona Elite professional running team, National Corn Growers Association, and several other organizations.

I was reminded over and over that the world is full of dedicated hard-working individuals who really are doing their very best to generate quality results and make a difference every day. My focus with them on the idea of excellence was deepened this year.

I define excellence as doing the best you can at whatever you’re doing while simultaneously learning how to do it better the next time. This year’s interactions with other people helped me to see both a broader and deeper perspective on how individual excellence, leadership excellence, management excellence, and team excellence intertwine together to really make a significant and lasting impact.

The single biggest lesson I learned this year is an idea I call The Parameters of Appropriateness. We all need to really think through what we say in terms of topic, timing, wording, and tone. There’s an old saying that sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt us. That is totally wrong. My words and your words can definitely hurt us and hurt other people. We have to very consciously think through what we are saying and how we are saying it BEFORE we say it. It’s not enough to have good intentions. We have to go beyond that and really think through our words before we say them.

My 2018 Reading List

For the past several years I’ve shared the books I completed over the past year. This was an extraordinary year of reading for me. I learned so much from authors who invested themselves in writing something of meaning. Here goes:

  1. Origins by Dan Brown
  2. Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
  3. The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle
  4. Endure by Alex Hutchinson
  5. The Hope Circuit by Martin Seligman
  6. The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell
  7. Romance of the Grail by Joseph Campbell
  8. Story Driven by Bernadette Jiwa
  9. Pathways to Bliss by Joseph Campbell
  10. Friction by Jeff Rosenblum
  11. A Better Way by Gerry Rauenhorst
  12. You Are Special by Fred Rogers
  13. I Believe by Gerald Kennedy
  14. RFK, Ripples of Hope by Kerry Kennedy
  15. Creative Living for Today by Maxwell Maltz
  16. Kill the Company by Lisa Bodell
  17. Robin by Dave Itzkoff
  18. Tom Dooley, My Story by Tom Dooley
  19. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  20. This Is Marketing by Seth Godin
  21. Markings by Dag Hammarskjold
  22. The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers by Amy Hollingsworth
  23. The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer
  24. Before I Sleep – Last Days of Tom Dooley by James Monahan

I could give a week-long seminar on everything I learned in these 24 books. I thought about organizing them into categories, but I’ve just listed them in the chronological order in which I read them. If you ever want specific feedback on any of them, just email me at dan@thecoughlincompany.com.

The Main Idea I Learned and Relearned

In terms of what I learned and relearned from these books I will narrow it down to a single idea: the quest. They all essentially were about the quest to matter, to make a difference in the world. This is what we all share in common. We do it in vastly different ways, but we’re all trying to fulfill our purpose. Joseph Campbell writes a LOT about the Holy Grail, which in our work means purpose fulfillment. All of these books in some way were about the quest for the Holy Grail, to fulfill our purpose at work.

It became clear to me this year that my quest, my Holy Grail, is to help equip other people to more consistently deliver excellence in their work. High school and college help us to learn how to learn. They help prepare us to be a successful part of the work force. However, I think there is so much to learn beyond college courses. And that’s what I’ve dedicated my career to doing. Discovering, combining, and explaining ideas that people can use in practical ways to fulfill their purpose at work and more consistently deliver excellence has been my life’s work, and will continue to be so.

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at dan@thecoughlincompany.com with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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