Sometimes, even a simple question can push others to reach higher and attain achievements equal to their potential. Consider a question like this: Is that the best you can do?
A leader might evaluate an initial work product. A first draft. An early performance. And when those seven words are deployed, they can drive talented and driven people to new heights.
Asking, Is that the best you can do? presumes more can be achieved. It challenges those with talent to prove their skill with extra effort. As a matter of pride, the best will take up this sword and take another swing. Those less motivated to reach for excellence, however, may quickly suggest that this is indeed their best work. The leader now knows exactly who they are dealing with. A raised eyebrow, or a mutter of disbelief, can quietly confirm their disagreement.
“Is that the best you can do?” can prove to be a powerful motivator, especially for those with the most skills and talents. Pushing others to strive for excellence is natural for those who stand for excellence themselves.
Perhaps the best example of the power in this question comes from the files of statesman Henry Kissinger’s speechwriter Winston Lord. Lord tells of Kissinger commissioning a particularly important speech. Once Kissinger received the draft, he returned it with a note that read, “Is this the best you can do?” The speechwriter reworked the draft and submitted it to Kissinger for his approval. Once again, Kissinger returned the speech with the same comment: “Is this the best you can do?” This process repeated itself seven more times. When the speechwriter received the question one last time, he replied, “I can’t possibly improve one more word.” Kissinger then responded: “In that case, now I will read it.”
P.S. Why do so many senior leaders resist corporate leadership development programs? We can solve that thorny HR/LD problem. Registration is now open for our live digital event on March 16th.