Henry Kissinger, who served as Secretary of State under President Richard M. Nixon, was a master at extracting people’s best work.
When his chief of staff once handed in a foreign-policy report, Kissinger asked, “Is this your best work?”
His chief became worried and said he thought he could do better. Two weeks later, he turned in the report again. Kissinger repeated, “Are you sure this is your best work?”
Realizing something must have been missing, the chief rewrote the report yet again. When he handed it in, he said, “Mr. Kissinger, this is my best work.”
Upon hearing this, Kissinger replied, “Then this time I will read your report.”
Requiring people’s best work is different from insisting on desired outcomes. People become stressed when they’re expected to produce results beyond their control. They do, however, respond well to positive pressure to do their best work.
Becoming a Genius-Maker
In the book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter (HarperBusiness, 2010), authors Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown identify five principles leaders can use to bring out the best in people. Each allows workers to stretch so they can contribute greater effort and productivity.
You needn’t excel in all five disciplines to be considered a multiplier who brings out the best in your people. You must, however, master two or three disciplines and be “good enough” in the remaining ones.
Next, choose an area of weakness and strive to manage it the best you can and surround yourself with people to complement your area of weakness. View your leadership effectiveness on a continuum so it can be realistically achieved.
This is straight-forward but not necessarily easy to do. Most people aren’t really good at seeing their own strengths and weaknesses. We become masters of self-deception. That’s why I highly recommend working with a trusted mentor or executive coach.