I was lied to. There isn’t hell to pay if you don’t give your VERY BEST.
The biggest professional challenge I’ve had is not losing one of the fundamental rules I was taught growing up – give your VERY BEST. During 35 years of working in public sector organizations, I’ve been baffled at what has been accepted as VERY BEST. Mystified.
Since birth, I had it hammered into my head that the VERY BEST was not a choice, it was a demand. Parents, teachers, coaches, bosses all sent the same message – give your VERY BEST. Nothing less was accepted. I quickly learned it was all bullshit. You don’t have to give your very best to survive in certain places. Far from it.
Here’s the good news – if you do give your VERY BEST, you will separate yourself from the rest. You will have minimal competition. There’s less traffic where the very best is given day in, day out. You will win for sure and likely win big. I’ve seen that with my own eyes. Eyewitness evidence. Giving the VERY BEST is not common or desirable or pleasurable or even a necessity to survive in some places. But no one wins without it. You just survive.
Giving the VERY BEST always wins – team and individually. Guaranteed. Because the VERY BEST trumps half-assed effort regardless of natural gifts. Always. I have never seen half-assed beat the very best. Not only is it counter-intuitive to believe you can win without giving the very best, it’s delusional. There’s not enough space on this blog to present all the evidence I’ve witnessed of how giving far less than the very best has been accepted and, worse, rewarded.
Leadership success and failure depends on how the concept of ‘very best’ is defined. VERY BEST is an abstract concept that is widely interpreted and misinterpreted. Getting the very best from your team starts with the leader – how headership defines very best determines what the team actually gives. Where the bar is set is where the bar will be lifted to. Don’t expect the bar to be raised higher that you set it, individually or for your team. If you are in a leadership position, you have a moral responsibility to set the bar high. You are ethically responsible for asking for the very best and getting it. But the very best doesn’t just happen. It’s built by training. What you put in is what you put out. Except time. Putting in time, by itself, will not guarantee giving the very best. It is the combined effect of quality and quantity of time that counts.
I’ve been shocked over and over again during my professional career for what has passed for very best. There’s a direct relationship between leadership and work performance. You hide what you let slide. What you let slide gets hidden – buried. Letting it slide is a primary symptom of incompetent leadership. It’s the reason why the very best is not demanded and not supplied.
I got hired as a police officer at the age of 18. At 33, I was hired as a college professor. When you’re a rookie in new places, it’s easy to get negatively influenced and lower the bar by what you see around you. It’s easy to give in to the peer pressure that tells you to slow down and not be ambitious. It’s easy to fall in the trap of giving the bare minimum and fool yourself that it’s the very best. It’s incredibly easy to fool others that you’re giving your very best. There’s nothing easier than bullshitting because it takes minimal effort and it’s easily believed. Bullshit truly does baffle brains. And it’s becomes even easier when it’s tolerated, rewarded, and awarded.
The beauty of working out and the beauty of football and the beauty of business are all the same – the scoreboard. Nowhere to hide. I learned true leadership lessons in the gym – lifting doesn’t lie. I learned true leadership lessons on the football field – the scoreboard doesn’t lie. I learned true leadership lessons in my own businesses – balance sheets don’t lie. Working out, coaching football, and private self-made business all are unforgiving Darwinian struggles that cut the weak and promote the strong. True meritocracies.