Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Making the Best Better

“Only a mediocre person is always at his best.”

Somerset Maugham

I was conducting a leadership program at a client’s company headquarters in South Carolina. During the lunch break, as I was strolling around with one of their vice presidents, I couldn’t help but notice the great inspirational quotes hanging on the walls. I commented what a great idea this was. The VP said, “These are the inspirational reminders we used in the turnaround we went through a few years ago. We were a very old company that had drifted into the doldrums and plateaued out. Then our CEO read a book by Philip Crosby called Quality Is Free––and after that we turned the company around. Now we’re the acknowledged world leader in our field.”

The first quote on the wall that really caught my eye said, “There is no saturation to education.” What a great thought! Think about it. Do you realize that nobody has ever been completely educated? There is always room for another new idea! I think that quote ought to be on every manager’s wall and across the top of every company newsletter. There is no saturation to education!

But the one that brought me to a complete halt was a few yards further down the hallway. This is the one that will stick with me forever. “Good is the enemy of best; best is the enemy of better.” Wow! That’s profound! When we get good at something, what do we tend to say? “Why do I have to be the best at this? I’m already good at it.” Should we happen to become the best at something, and then the tendency is to say, “Why do I need to get any better? I’m already Number One.”

When I was in the cockpit of my supersonic fighter I was always “checking my six.” That was the area directly behind me where something bad could slip up on me. Occasionally, we’d see one of our buddies in the squadron getting a little too cocky, a little too self-assured for his own good and ours. That’s when somebody would say, “You’d better check your six. Something’s gaining on you and you don’t even know it.”

That same thing happens in the business world. I spot them in my audiences at conventions and seminars. Their arms are folded; they never take a note and have a “know it all” look on their face. I spring this on them, “Check your six. Something is slipping up on you that you’re not going to like.”

When you take that new road––the one that leads out of the familiar routine and into new goals and new growth––your customers will be thrilled. But what happens if you keep going around and around in the same circle? Plateauing, followed by stagnation, followed by burnout…in that order.

Immediate Action: Think of a person you’ve worked with who thought he or she knew it all, but didn’t. How should he or she have kept up with the challenges of the day? What can you learn from his or her complacency?

Point to Ponder Before You Go On: Don’t forget to check your six. You’ve got to make sure you stay out there where you can focus. For your own good and for the good of others. You’ve got to make sure that complacency isn’t keeping you from developing new talents––and developing defenses against the new challenges you’re going to face.