I’m not a big Bill Gates fan particularly, so I didn’t make a point of watching the Richard Dimbleby Lecture he gave which was broadcast this week, but I happened to catch him talking about the charitable foundation he and his wife run. He used a phrase which has stayed with me – he talked about ‘being the best you can be’.
I wondered not just what he meant, but what the phrase meant to me, and how it differed from the phrase ‘doing your best’. This morning I had time to reflect a bit more on that, and want to share my thinking both in relation to work and wider life contexts.
‘Doing your best’ is about skill, knowledge, expertise. It is about using your talents to their full potential, working hard, not being sloppy, trying and being committed to doing a good job. What more can you do?
Well, ‘being the best you can be’ takes you a little bit further.It involves more than your skills, your knowledge, your talent, it demands your heart, your compassion, your love.
How does this apply to leadership?
Great leadership isn’t rational. There aren’t consistent rules that always apply. Sometimes you have to use your gut, your heart, your emotions to discern the best course of action, you can’t expect to work it out logically or do what you did last time.
Really good leaders never have to remind you that what you see is what you get, that they are transparent, open and honest. Good leaders know that sometimes sensitivity, humility, uncertainty and doubt are allowed. In fact, these often vital qualities let people know that you are fallible, that you’re sometimes as uncertain, scared and worried as they are.
Being the best that you can be can sometimes mean admitting to and revealing your weakness, it can mean letting go, handing over control, sharing your fears. Being human.
Kind or Clever - which is best?
My father was very ambitious for me, and encouraged cleverness, rewarding me if I did well. I believed that hard work and doing my best made me a good person, that I was contributing on the basis of my talents. But now I reflect on the balance of kindness and cleverness. If I had to be one or the other, I would choose to be kind. A clever person who is not kind does not contribute, whereas a kind person, clever or not, always does.
I have often had the job of telling people bad news about their future – something many of us are involved in these days, with many more feeling the devastating effects. I hope in these situations that I did my best to explain why things were changing, that I made it clear that the process was necessary for good reasons, that it was nobody’s fault.
I feel it is important to relay the facts, to tell it straight and make it clear what was happening, but equally, it is essential to try to see the change from the perspective of those affected, to understand their shock and fear, to recognise their loss of control. Being human doesn’t mean you have to avoid the bad news, that you have to hide, wrap it up or lie, but it does mean that you have to look people in the eye, you have to acknowledge their pain and you have to be kind.
How Can The Open Channel help?
At The Open Channel we try to be positive about change, helping people find the future they want and do more of what works for them. We also help leaders draw on their personal strengths to help people in their organisation move forward with a richer understanding of the need for change and with more confidence about the choices that lie within their reach.
If you think we can help you be the best you can be, find us at The Open Channel.