Too many years ago, when I was still young and first starting my professional journey, my father once said to me, “Don’t do your best, kid. Do someone else’s best.”
It took me a little while to figure out what he meant.
Doing Your Best
The cynic in me took it as a warning to not give too much, too fast to any job. Apart from making everyone else look bad — and running the risk of never being invited to any of the really cool parties — there can be drawbacks. All too often, and at far too many companies, the only reward for hard work is more work and increased expectations. If you consistently outperform your peers, you’re soon expected to always outperform them.
Meanwhile, Larry down in Cubicle 3 skates by, doing half the work in twice the time because he figured out the secret is to only do as much as the guy next to you. Do any more, and you run the risk of an enterprising manager trying to raise the bar on you. There’s a sort of wisdom in that way of thinking, albeit of a hopeless, defeated, and desperate variety, but wisdom all the same.
The more optimistic part of my soul took what my dad said as inspirational. If it ever turned out that my best wasn’t good enough – if Larry, who spent most of his free time gossiping about Janet in Accounting’s scandalous Post-Its policy while heating up leftover fish in the microwave every single day – was ever doing better than I was, I wasn’t doing enough.
If you’re only ever doing your best, there will always be someone ready and willing to come along to surpass your efforts. When that inevitably happens, leave your old best behind and start doing their best, instead. Constant, iterative improvement. There’s hope in that and growth – but it turns out that’s not all my dad meant.
Doing Someone Else’s Best
Doing someone else’s best isn’t about featherbedding your workload to keep expectations low and in line with everyone else — and while it does lead to personal growth, it doesn’t mean always trying to make sure everyone knows you’re the smartest one in the room, either. What my father was trying to tell through his odd, needlessly confusing DadSpeak™ wasn’t that I needed to be as good or better than everyone else. It wasn’t even about me, in the end.
Doing someone else’s best means making sure everything you’re doing is helping them do their best.
That’s the secret.
Do someone else’s best today. Facilitate their success. Find someone who needs help and offer it. Teach them ways to get their numbers up or how to achieve the goal they’ve never quite managed. Find out what the best version of themselves would do. Then do that. It’s a great opportunity to help them visualize what doing their best can accomplish.
If someone is outperforming you, find out what they’re doing better than you are, figure out how they’re doing it, and start doing it yourself. And, if your company has fostered a culture where everyone is doing someone else’s best, they’ll likely even help you.
Shift your focus. Tilt the lens a little and see what the world looks like from a different perspective. Spend a little less time worrying about how you’re performing, what your KPIs look like, and how you compare to everyone else in the office. Instead, consider how the work you’re doing – and the way you’re doing it – is affecting those around you.
MORE FOR YOU
MORE FOR YOU
A leader’s success can only be truly measured by the success of those who follow them. In one of my earliest professional roles, my team and I were tasked with getting an enormous backlog of cases resolved. If I’d wanted to impress my bosses by doing my best, I’d have taken them all on by myself, pushing to work through every last unresolved case at breakneck speed, outpacing everyone else on the team.
However, hearing my dad’s words in my ears, I decided to help them do their best and took it upon myself to implement a somewhat unorthodox (and entirely unauthorized) incentive program that inspired the team to work smarter, work faster, and get back more of their day in return. After we’d successfully eliminated several years of backlogged cases in just under two months, my bosses weren’t only impressed with me. Instead, they were impressed with the entire team and with how I solved a seemingly unsolvable problem that had plagued the department for years.
The Wisdom of Dad Jokes
Do someone else’s best, and you’ll be their best – their best boss, their best co-worker, their best mentor. Make sure everything you do is grounded in your desire to lift them – and the company – up, not to manage your peers or put them down. Your employees want to succeed – you just need to make sure everything you do empowers them to prosper.
My father has shared a lot of wisdom with me through the years, peppered among all the truly awful dad jokes he can never seem to get enough of – and it’s often difficult to tell where the bad puns end and the genuine advice begins. One time, he told me the most important lesson I’d ever learn in life would be whichever one hurt the most. He turned out to be right, but I wasn’t really listening since he was also asking me to pull his finger at the time.
However, one thing my father never did was tell me how to live. He just let me watch him doing what I thought was his best until I eventually realized he’d always been showing me how to do mine.