When Your Best Isn’t Good Enough
Posted on 11 October 2012
Let’s face it. We all are endowed with specific gifts and abilities that no two have alike. That means that you will do certain things better than others and others will do certain things more effectively than you. This should not threaten a leader who is focused on the end goal. It’s the old cliché, “It’s amazing what you can get done when you don’t care who gets the credit.”
On the news, I recently heard someone in a position of great authority reply, in response to a question, “We are doing the best we can.” While we certainly encourage this type of language among children to encourage them to truly do their personal best and to develop self esteem, this verbiage has no place in a leader’s vocabulary.
When I attended the Air Force Academy in the mid-80s, first-year cadets were allowed only five basic responses when asked a question by an upperclassman. They were “Yes, sir/ma’am”; “No, sir/ma’am”; “No excuse, sir/ma’am”; “Sir/Ma’am, I do not know”; “Sir, Ma’am, I will find out”. That’s it! No more, no less. This first year of only answering with these responses stick with me to this day. It’s probably why, when someone answers me with an excuse, I feel a tremendous urge to tell them to drop and give me twenty! The service academies are first and foremost leadership academies. After all, you cannot defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic, if you are not a leader. And that is the primary job of a leader, to take care of those under their care.
Had I ever answered “I’m doing my best” as a cadet, I’m sure I would have been drummed out of the corps, and rightly so. Had I ever answered “I’m doing my best” to a Fortune 500 customer when they asked why their five-million-dollar piece of equipment wasn’t ready, I’m sure I would have been fired, and rightly so. If, when running a classified project, I replied “I’m doing my best” when asked why there were documented security violations, I’m sure I would have been escorted off base, and should have been.
If you have truly done your best and still cannot get the job done, do not let your ego sink all the good things you’ve accomplished. Realize it is time to move on to the next area requiring your particular set of talents and let the next team come in. That’s why we have succession plans and it’s why no one, no matter how smart or how powerful, is ever indispensible. Do not ever say, “I’m doing the best I can” because that is never an answer that serves any purpose other than making an excuse for yourself and alienating or infuriating the questioner.