Good Enough?

I’m a big Jim Collins fan.  For those of you who don’t know Jim’s work he is an exceptional researcher of business drivers paired with business results, and he has had a large impact on business thinking around the world. In his second book “Good to Great”, the one that launched him into the sphere of “one whom we should heed”, he postulated that “good is the enemy of great“.

The thought was that when we strive to be good enough we might miss just how great we might become. Imagine that … good isn’t good enough because the standard should be “we are great“!  I’ve always bought into this school of thought intellectually, but it isn’t so easy to engage a thought when it is only an intellectual exercise.

Last week I experienced “good is the enemy of great” first hand.

Any of you who follow my posts know that I’ve been pursuing certification as a coach over the past year.  The Hudson Institute of Coaching has a rigorous program, a part of which is to record a few coaching sessions with clients and submit them for review by master coaches. As a part of that submission, we complete a self-assessment where we state what we are working on to elevate our skills as coaches.

My “learning edges”, as we refer to them in the program, were technical in the world of coaching. They were about how to execute at a higher level. They were about honing the edge on a specific skill.

A good house
A good house

The feedback I received from the master coach, if I can paraphrase him, was something along the lines of “you are good enough at being a good coach. Can we move on from there and understand what it takes to be a great coach?”  In essence, moving up one notch on the good scale won’t hold a candle to stepping off that scale and moving on to using the great scale.  When we concentrate on being good enough, we don’t give ourselves an opportunity to be great.

No doubt that we have to move through good to get to great. The problem seems to be that sometimes we see good as the destination.  When I heard feedback from a master in the field that I aspire to, it really made me think about the subtleties of what it would take to be a great coach. These were things like:

  • How to prepare for a coaching session such that we show up with great thinking already in mind.
  • How do we move beyond our IQ and employ our EQ to move ourselves and others.
  • Do we manage our state of presence moment to moment instead of day-to-day so we can respond beyond the situation to the people engaged in it.

This was amazing feedback.  It took me out of a comfortable mentality of “I think I’m good at this” to a new learning mentality of “how do I become a great coach.

How do we use this thought as leaders?  At a company level, Jim Collins has many findings with respect to what companies do to transcend good to get to great. Leaders work both organizationally and one-on-one.  Jim Collin covers organizations exceptionally well.

A great house
A great house

The question really is …. do we, as leaders, acknowledge the passage through good enough, but really focus our team members on what they can be truly great at.

If that team member is an accountant, acknowledge that the ledger balances, but work with them to invest their unique passion in uncovering trends in the key accounts that moves the business to the next level.

If they are they are an account executive, acknowledge that their client base produces more revenue than any other account executive in the company, but encourage them be driven by the fact that they know they can help their client transform its thinking about how it is solving a certain problem, cementing a long-term, trusting relationship.

In summary, do we ask our team what the greatest thing they can imagine accomplishing is? And then do we ask them to stretch a bit to imagine everything going exactly right and exceeding their wildest dream by just a little bit? What would that feel like? What would they need to do differently to make that image a reality?

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Ian Munro @

Ian Munro is a leadership and vitality coach with a primary passion for working with senior professionals who wish to improve their connection to and vitality in their career, or who wish to make a transition to a meaningful and rewarding retirement. His methods are focused on helping clients understand why they present as they do in day-to-day life, discover their authentic self and give themselves permission to build a meaningful and rewarding future, both professional and personal. Ian’s love for this work has developed naturally as he built his career as an executive and leader in the IT services industry, serving in many roles and facets of this industry over 25 years. As he reached the pinnacle of his career he began to search more deeply for meaning and alternate rewards from his own career and to begin to plan for his own “first retirement”.

8 thoughts on “Good Enough?

  1. Voltaire said “the best is the enemy of the good” and wikipaedia expands ” (This phrase)… is an aphorism or proverb meaning that insisting on perfection often results in no improvement at all. Aristotle, Confucius and other classical philosophers propounded the principle of the golden mean which counsels against extremism in general. For example, it commonly takes 20% of the full time to complete 80% of a task while to complete the last 20% of a task takes 80% of the effort.”
    As a coach, wouldn’t it be better to help 5 people reach 80% of their potential, rather than one person reach 100%? What would happen to the four who missed out?

    1. Wow that made me think. Here’s what came to mind.

      What if both were true?

      Is it possible that in our striving for growth we lift the shackles of good enough to see if we can do something great? Yet at the same time apply ourselves pragmatically in the day-to-day tasks such that in some way we optimize the use of these ever-growing talents?

      How does that resonate with you?

      1. I have just replied to Diana’s comment so this follows from that thought and your answer above..

        so maybe strive for greatness in the ‘big picture’ but stop looking for the tiny flaws in the day-to-day which can serve to take time away from the big picture greatness.

        Yes, that makes sense.

  2. Moving through good to reach for great… I have thought about this off and on for years. Great is great and when you and your team are achieving ‘great’ it feels awesome. Perhaps Good is the enemy of Great.

    Yet I have some questions. If you are always reaching for great, are you ever happy/satisfied? Do you ever celebrate what is? Are there ever moments when you feel you’ve arrived at Great? And can ‘greatness’ be sustained over a long period of time? If it can’t, are you just ho hum, mediocre the rest of the time?

    What are your thoughts Ian?

    1. When I was in grade six (aged 11) my teacher scored me 299 out of 300 for Mathematics. She took off one mark for leaving out a decimal point as she felt she could not give a student full marks. I think since then I have been hunting for those decimal points all my life and am almost never satisfied that I have done well enough at projects that I accomplish. I am not sure whether I am supposed to thank my teacher for making me strive for my very best or wish that I could sometimes forget her message and be satisfied with ‘near enough is good enough’.

    2. Great questions Diana! Have you been talking to Elizabeth?she also got me thinking early this Sunday morning!

      I’ve written lately on the topic of flow and my belief is that we can achieve flow through a combination of passion and skill. So the pursuit of greatness in a field I’m truly interested in will likely give me great satisfaction even if I never feel I’ve arrived at great. I will still celebrate my achievements along the way.

      If the field isn’t my passion – for example I’m not all that interested in making a great tuna fish sandwich – I think I’m actually satisfied with mediocre. Good is probably still the enemy of great but I don’t care.

      Does that make sense?

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