Thursday, 29 March 2018

Your Best is Too Good

I know that you always do your best. I mean, why would you ever give less? You've got a lifetime of experience, and you know that you can do what you do better than anyone else could.

And, often, that means you're over-stretched. You're working late again. Maybe working at weekends. Maybe taking work calls when you're on the beach. And all because no-one else can do what you do as well as you do.

When you were growing up, you were probably quite a competitive person, maybe you excelled in sports, or in your studies. And when you did your best, that was what was important for you.

Now that you're where you are now, you can look back and see that your career has been continually built on this foundation, a foundation of excellence, of hard work, of self-sacrifice. You've made some mistakes along the way, maybe some compromises.

Your biggest challenge is that there are only so many hours in the day, and if there were only two of you, or more hours, then you could get more done. But the reality of life imposes certain limits, and that's frustrating.

Well, I have some news for you. There is nothing wrong in doing your best, always. In fact, when someone tries to convince you that good enough is good enough, that conflict that you feel is very real. Good enough is absolutely not good enough. Only the best is good enough. Also, there's no problem in gaining the approval of others. We are a social species and we need approval to navigate a course through life. Like it or not, we are on this planet with other people; families, friends, colleagues, customers. No man is an island, and no woman either. We are in this together.

The danger with approval is in starting from the default position that you don't have it. Once you've been accepted, maybe into a new job or relationship, you've proven yourself. You don't have to keep on doing it.

So here's the thing about always doing your best. Sometimes, your best is actually too good.

Imagine taking a taxi to a customer meeting so that you can prepare your presentation. On arrival, you might think that you could have driven more smoothly, you could have taken a better route, you could have arrived faster. However, you got to where you needed to be, and you were able to use that time more productively, to focus on something that was more important for you. You could have prepared or driven, and excelled at either, but you could only do one, so you chose the one that made the biggest difference for your future.

Imagine if you'd driven, and lost the business because you were unprepared. Imagine saying to the customer, "But I drove here really well!"

In customer service, people often give away profits by giving customers things they hadn't asked for. "Sorry for keeping you waiting, here's a discount", or "Sorry that we don't have that in stock, have a more expensive version for the same price". If the customer didn't ask for it, and doesn't value it, then all you've done is give away profit. In customer service, it's very easy to be too good, and the problem is that customers don't necessarily notice or care, and that effort went to waste.

My overall message here is that you are part of a system, and when you try to be the best at everything, it eats into your time, preventing you from focusing on what's important, and that prevents you from being recognised as the best.

Often, your best is too good.

By all means, do your best, be the best. Simply focus on the areas that are going to make the biggest difference to your future. And leave the driving to someone else.


Peter Freeth is an executive coach, talent and leadership expert and a keen learner from his busy, perfectionist clients who could be spending their time doing something far more valuable.

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