[August 6, 2017] It was instantly recognizable for its meaning to the soldiers waiting their turn to interview for Ranger School; the elite of U.S. Army schools and the one most respected. Good is the enemy of great, carved in wood and hung above the desk of the most senior enlisted man at the school, was meant to make it plain for anyone entering the office that being good at your job was not what made Rangers the great soldiers they were.
In any profession today we will find those who excel at their jobs. They are the ones who have a solution to a problem, are first to take on a tough assignment, and the ones their leaders can rely upon to get the job done where others have failed. They are the “go to” person; often called when the situation gets tough and always respected for their talent and leadership.
What do those interviewing for Ranger School and the professional who is always called upon when most needed? They have recognized early in life that being good at what they do can be a personal failure. To most people meeting the standard and behaving well can be considered successful and meaningful. Yet, there will always be an elite member, often of a special team, that exceeds the standard.
Complacency is what will get you killed in combat quicker than anything else. It’s a type of malaise that creeps over all of us, even the best of the best. But those who are used to fighting the status quo, where meeting the minimum standard of performance is okay (good enough), have the internal drive to push the limits of themselves and their team to greater heights.
Being above the average – way above the average – is actually not too difficult. Most people are satisfied with being good at what they do because they are often smart, good looking, lucky, and motivated … and they are handsomely rewarded for it. Too many times we see those who don’t have the desire to be at this level who receive accolades for trying hard, but not quite measuring up.
But there are those who are truly the best. Their secret that keeps them pushing the limits is a special inner drive that is always there. What they see in themselves is that being good is the enemy of greatness, so they push that much harder.
“I am only an average man but, by George, I work harder at it than the average man.” – Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States
I got the chance to ask a soldier, recently selected to attend Ranger School, what it was that motivated him to apply for such a difficult assignment. He told me he had been called “average” his whole life and that “seeing average people go about their boring lives was enough to make anyone want to join the U.S. Army and be a Ranger.”
The lesson for leaders? If you are average, work harder than everybody else.
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