In 1862, at the height of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln gave his second annual message to Congress. Today, this activity is known as the State of the Union. His concluding remarks encouraged all Americans to do better.
“We can succeed only by concert. It is not ‘can any of us imagine better?’ but ‘can we alldo better?’ The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country… The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just — a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.”
154 years later, those words of wisdom are still relevant. In order for our country to be a better place for this and future generations, public, private and family leaders must make a commitment to get better. You and I also have a responsibility as leaders to get talented individuals to work better together. I am not talking about being better than someone else. I believe too much emphasis these days is being placed on being “the best.” There are two problems with this point of view. Once you are the best or achieve a certain status in your career, the tendency of leaders and teams is to coast and repeat the same behavior that got them to the top. Soon, even the best leaders fall into a comfort zone and attempt to win today’s game with yesterday’s game plan…a formula that’s guaranteed to fail.
The second problem with trying to be better than someone else is that if you don’t reach your objectives, the tendency is to quit. Why try if you believe you can’t beat the competition? This is a sad reality for many leaders. It doesn’t matter if you are trying to lead a large company or small team, if you’re a young informal leader, or a veteran with 30 years of experience. When you believe you can’t win, you don’t take positive action.
The short answer to Lincoln’s question is ‘yes.’ We can all do a little better today than we did yesterday. All leaders can learn new and better ways to engage, influence and encourage everyone they need to lead. A 1% improvement compounded daily is the goal. Unfortunately, not everyone is ready or willing to do the consistent work required to make small improvements and become the best they are capable of being. However, if you’re ready, you can start creating positive change today by answering these questions:
What’s the one small thing you want to do better today as a leader?
Why is it important for you to get better in that area?
How are you going to create that positive change in the way you lead?
Who is going to provide the challenge, support and accountability you need to keep getting a little better every day?
Ask and answer those four questions every day and your world “will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.”
Let’s Get Better. Together! Bill Durkin