The best of not being the best

The strength of not being the best

Being the best is a race you’re going to lose later or sooner. It is only a matter of time. It requires effort, commitment and a lot of ambition. And in time, there will be another person that probably beats you, with more effort, more commitment and more ambition.

Don’t get me wrong. Being the best is great if you want to focus on a single thing. But as I write about leadership, which unfortunately is more complex than a single task, I may ask you: have you ever thought the strength of not being the best at something and being good at almost everything?

The effort of being the best makes us focus, as I said, in a single task. We cannot master something if we waste time in other things.

Let me give you an example.

Let’s think we are the best at “the number 8”. We know everything about this number: its multiples and divisors, its properties as an odd number, its representation.

One day, someone tells us: “The number 8, when rotated 90 degrees, looks like a pair of spectacles”.

There’s no point in rotating the number 8 representation from “the number” perspective. Thus, it’s probably that although we master number 8, we don’t understand what we’ve being told.

To understand the above, we don’t need to know everything about number 8 but something about other things. We need both basic arithmetic and visualization skills. We need also to know about what a pair of spectacles is, although we don’t need to know everything of how it works.

And knowing all these things, we can connect the dots and fully understand what we’ve been told.

Steve Jobs beautifully explained this many years ago in his speech at Stanford University: (self) leadership is about connecting the dots.

This ‘connecting the dots’ thing is important when leading in a very complex environment, like ours. Leaders need to deal with unprecedented levels of uncertainty where making quick decisions is key to thrive.

To be able to do that, they cannot focus on a single thing. They need to see the big picture, soar high to understand what is happening and what can be done.

Keeping this in mind, what is the best profile we can have to lead?

The short answer is that probably we need a kind of Swiss penknife. Someone able to understand the business, effectively deal with people, establish the vision and make things happen. And probably we don’t need the best in one of those things but someone good at all of them. Good enough to connect the dots of this uncertain reality of ours.

This kind of leader makes a difference in:

  • Relating things to provide a better understanding of what is needed.
  • Being able to build a high performing team working at its highest point of contribution: with the best (now, yes!) people in many fields working as a whole.
  • Building the vision and establishing the bridge between past and future with that team defining the tactics.
  • Being the compass for everyone to remain engaged and make things happen.

As a summary: being good enough at many things will make us the best in leading. And from my point of view, this is a race we’ll never lose.

The more ‘best leaders’ we have, the better.