|I first read this particular story about Henry Kissinger in Hassan Osman’s book Mental Models.
Henry Kissinger is a German-born American politician and diplomat, who served as United States Secretary of State and National Security Advisor in the late 60’s and 70’s.
He was known to be a perfectionist, especially when it came to writing speeches.
In his mind, every word in a speech counted. He would revise his speeches 20+ times. He also demanded the same level of perfection from his staff and colleagues.
One documented interaction can teach us so much about coaching, mental barriers and high expectations.
It is a story about an interaction with Ambassador Winston Lord (from Walter Isaacson’s book Kissinger: A Biography ).
One oft-told tale about Kissinger . . . involved a report that Winston Lord had worked on for days. After giving it to Kissinger, he got it back with the notation, “Is this the best you can do?”
Lord rewrote and polished and finally resubmitted it; back it came with the same curt question.
After redrafting it one more time―and once again getting the same question from Kissinger―Lord snapped, “Damn it, yes, it’s the best I can do.”
To which Kissinger replied: “Fine, then I guess I’ll read it this time.”
We put barriers on ourselves. Most of these barriers are psychological. We accept things in ourselves and in others that are less than our best.
This is why coaches are so important. They can challenge us, show us we can be even better, and paint a picture of what we could be…if we would stop limiting ourselves.
The next time you are working on something, ask yourself “Is this the best I can do?” Chances are, it is not. Improve it… and then ask the question again.
In the same way, the next time you are working with or coaching someone, ask them “Is this the best you can do?” No need to demean, browbeat, or bully. Simply ask this question.
I think we will be amazed at what people can do if we coach them like they are capable…if we just act as a guide. Help people to overcome their barriers with one simple question. (I wrote about the Pygmalion Effect HERE)
“Is that the best you can do?”