Think HBR

Stop trying to be the best and just get better

Greg Mowbray
Licence to Lead Leadership Development Program
If we listen to the motivational speakers and the personal development bloggers, we should all be striving to be the best. But the very definition of the word best (first, foremost, premier etc) means we can’t all be the best, only one of us can. The trouble with this is many of us stop trying, as we know that it’s just not possible to the best. Every one of us, however, all of us, can be better, and that’s what we should be aiming at, especially as leaders.
Better isn’t perfect, it’s just better. I wonder do some of us, as aspiring leaders, when we realise leadership is hard and that we’re not perfect, do we lose hope and try a little less? What if, every day, we tried to be a little better than we were the day before. If we could see that we were improving, getting better, we might just recommit and keep on track?
Good, better, best. There is no doubt in my mind that we have to be good at certain things to be a leader. Good at listening, communicating, feeling empathy for others. Good at planning and organising, developing a vision for the future, just to name a few. To be even more effective as a leader, being just good isn’t enough and that’s where the desire to become better comes in.
If we look at the world of professional sport, the very best are the ones, that by courtesy of nature, were good and stood out from the rest of us. But they turned good into better by hard work, coaching, practice and probably a bit of luck. Many talented people that were born good but failed to get better, don’t make it. But even the good, that work hard and become better, still don’t all become the best. Therefore, I don’t believe being the best is what we should be aiming at, just better.
If there is to be a ‘best’ in the context of leadership, maybe it’s ‘personal best’ - to be the best version of ourselves. Comparing ourselves with others can be counterproductive. If we see great leaders and realise that we can’t compete there’s a chance we will lose confidence. What we should do is challenge ourselves to think about overcoming our weaknesses and leveraging our strengths and fundamentally become better.
I admire Wayne Bennett for the way he inspires his players to become better. I saw him speak at a corporate lunch a few years ago and one of the questions he was asked by an audience member was “when do you know it’s time to let someone go?” Wayne’s reply was “when you see them stop trying to improve.” One of the keys to Bennett’s success is that he drills into his players the philosophy of getting better.
Perhaps a key to effective leadership is just that – a commitment to becoming better, day by day? Combine that with a commitment to helping others to become better, and we have a winning formula.
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Greg Mowbray Greg Mowbray
Greg Mowbray is a leadership speaker, author mentor and consultant. He is the CEO and founder of the Licence to Lead Leadership Development Program and the author of the book, Road Rules for Leadership.