Is That the Best You Can Do?

This week, we were honored to have Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, speak at our workplace.  She is a very interesting and dynamic speaker.  Many that attended found her brutal honesty to be refreshing.

Among the many experiences and stories that she told was one about the speechwriter for Henry Kissinger that I think was very intriguing.  So much so, that I did some research on the story.  I found out that earlier in his career, Winston Lord was Kissinger’s speechwriter before he later became the ambassador to China.  The story basically goes like this:

Lord was preparing a speech for Kissinger and delivered a draft.  Kissinger called him in the next day and simply said, “Is that the best you can do?”  Lord said, “I thought so, but I’ll try again.”  He returned a draft to Kissinger, only to be called back again and asked the same question, “Is that the best you can do?”  This back and forth continued several times until Lord, who was exasperated and exhausted, finally said, “Yes!  I know it’s the best I can do.  I can’t possibly improve one more word.”  Kissinger then replied, “In that case, now I will read it.”

While I found that there were a few variations of this story (even as told by Lord himself in interviews), I found that the moral of the story remained constant and rings true; are you giving your best the first time?  The story is popular and I found it used in several blogs on leadership , articles and speeches. 

So the story begs the question, “Are you delivering your best work the first time?”

All Kissinger really wanted was an assurance and confidence in the fact that this was in fact his speechwriter’s best work.  If the speechwriter would have said “Yes” the first time Kissinger probably would have accepted it, but by repeatedly issuing the challenge he ultimately received his speechwriter’s best.

As I think about the application of this story to leadership, I think about it in two ways.

First, as leaders, do we elicit the best work from our people? How do you know?  What are you doing to challenge your  people to be better?  Are you teaching and developing them to produce quality work?  Do they convey their confidence when submitting work product? Do they strive to provide their best the first time?

Second, as leaders, do we set a good example and provide OUR BEST work the first time?  To your boss?  To your subordinates?  To your colleagues and partners?  To your customers?  Are people seeing your best work the first time?  Or do you scrape drafts together and submit them haphazardly just to get by? 

Here’s 5 tips on helping you achieve your best work the first time:

  1. Chuck laziness aside!  Don’t procrastinate!  You may be thinking, “Ha!  Easier said than done.”  Procrastination is one of the most widespread workplace diseases that there is.  Many even fall victim to the fallacy that “I do my best work under pressure.”  Well, then create artificial pressure to get you there, because leaving things to the last-minute generally leads to less than desired performance.  Force yourself to get started on things early.  If you can get in to this habit, you will be a step ahead of many.   This basic tip also sets you up for more effectively employing the next three tips.
  2. Plan for the Red Pen Plan time for the proof-reading, editing and review of your work.   Your boss shouldn’t be spending time red-penning (editing) your work.  Make sure this is part of your own project or work plan.  And honestly, once you learn to use it appropriately it becomes second nature. 
  3. Find Good Hole Punchers!  In addition to planning the proofing process in to your work, is the development of a list of trusted people who can review your work before you submit it.  Have them punch holes in your theories, format, content and anything else they can.  This list should be of people from a cross-section of your work environment because you may want different or multiple opinions on varying pieces of work.  Two key callouts though are that your list needs to be made up of people who have no fear of being brutally honest with you AND you need to be willing to accept any feedback that they provide with an open mind. 
  4. Sleep on it!  One of the great tricks of the trade, especially if you don’t have good hole punchers is to come to a stopping point in your work, put it aside, sleep on it a day or two, and then come back to it with a fresh set of eyes.  This gives your mind time to rest.  And when you come back to the work, you may see things you didn’t see before or think of new ways to phrase or say things.
  5. Obsess on improvement!  How many times has spell check saved your life in catching a misspelled word?  How many times since then have you misspelled that same word over and over only to have spell check catch it again?  I know it’s happened to me.  However, you won’t always have spell check around to save you.  So, wouldn’t it be good to get past being lazy and learn to actually spell the word right?  The same applies to all that you learn each time you submit a piece a work for review.  As people proof your work or provide you edits, learn the lessons they are teaching you and apply them to future work.  Learn to spell the word right!

What tips do you have for submitting your best work the first time?




2 Responses to Is That the Best You Can Do?

  1. Pingback: Thanks for a Great 2011! « The Leader's Locker

  2. David Weisbaum says:

    I was taught, and have always referred to this as ” Kissingering” your work!

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