When was the last time you charged someone on your team to “just do your best”? A week ago? Yesterday? This morning? The phrase “just do your best” sounds good at first – it sounds like you have faith in your team members to do a good job, right?
I remember when I was in high school my Mother would often tell me, “just do your best” when it came to my grades. So, if I took a harder class and didn’t get the A, she would ask, “Did you do your best?” and if I said I had, she’d say “okay” and let it drop. But the thing is, now that I think about it – I probably could have done better. I knew that I only needed to do my best, but I was the one who defined what my best was. Ever heard that saying that says “you are your harshest critic”? I think most of the time we set the bar of our best much lower than it actually could be – we are capable of so much more than we usually give ourselves credit for.
I recently read a post on the Leadership Freak blog called, “Overcoming the Mediocrity of Doing Your Best”, where Dan Rockwell says, “‘Do your best’ is an excuse for not doing your best. It’s code for, don’t worry if you don’t make it.” I tend to agree. The problem with project leaders saying something like that to their team members is that it’s vague. “Your best” depends on what you think your best is – and you’re probably wrong. However, a good leader can see a team member’s potential and the greatness that they’re capable of and can challenge them to achieve beyond what they may think their best is.
As Dan Rockwell put it, “Stop telling people to do their best; give them a goal, instead.” The vagueness and ambiguity of the term “Just do your best” does more harm than good. What’s more powerful is working with them to create a more specific, challenging (yet still attainable) goal, allowing them to take ownership of that goal and making sure they know that they will be expected to be accountable for the work they do. But perhaps even more powerful than those things is when a project leader expresses their confidence in the team member’s ability to reach the goal that’s been set. Give them a reason to believe they’re capable of achieving more than the “best” bar they set for themselves and watch them soar.