Never Enough … Excellence, Agility, and Meaning

03.05.21

Never Enough

THE IDEA behind Never Enough isn’t perfection or even a state of dissatisfaction. It’s about realizing that the goal is not to get by but to “always look for more ways to make an impact.”

Former Commanding Officer of Seal Team Two and White House Fellow serving with both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Mike Hayes, says Never Enough is about aiming for excellence, agility, and meaning in everything we do. Adopting this mindset can “drive us all to lead more complete, more rewarding lives, each making the world a better place in our own unique way.” Never enough means realizing our full potential—intentionally.

On an individual level, we must never look to be Never Excellent Enough and build our own capabilities in terms of knowledge and capacity, strength and control, and accountability and orientation.

On a team and organizational level, we must aim to be Never Agile Enough and understand how to shift between roles to best serve our missions, how to put systems in place that lead to superior decision-making, and how to keep our teams as flexible and responsive as possible.

On an impact level, we must act to be Never Meaningful Enough, knowing what will make the biggest difference for the people e in our lives and in our communities, and potentially on an even larger scale.

Never Excellent Enough

Never excellent enough begins with knowing yourself and then having the will and the drive to do the work and stretch yourself. “The hungriest people will, in fact, do whatever it takes, and they’ll get better and better along the way.” It’s never easy. The discomfort lets you know you are on the right path.

The way to get better over time is to know where we aren’t good enough, what aspects of our life are not satisfying enough, which goals we’re chasing aren’t the right ones.

Our reactions are critical. Hayes says he’ll take control over raw intelligence. “The smartest SEAL isn’t the one with the greatest raw intelligence. It’s the one who has the best and quickest reaction to a problem. You want both—intelligence and control—but in the stressful moments, control matters, a lot.”

In stressful circumstances, as leaders, we need “to be the person to pull others up, set the right tone, and keep everyone else on track.” Here’s the bottom line:

We can’t—and shouldn’t—erase emotions from our lives. We can’t be good partners, friends, spouses, and parents without emotion, without feelings, without vulnerability and genuine honesty. But we also can’t be effective performers if we aren’t able to compartmentalize, to put those feelings aside when they’re not helpful to the situation at hand.

Of course, the key to never enough excellence is humility. It means putting others first in all things.

I needed to be humble enough to let others take the lead when their skills were the ones we most needed in the moment, and confident enough that I didn’t need to prove my worth and ultimately hurt the mission by trying to do what might be better handled by someone else.

Hayes adds, “you’re not going to be the most productive performer unless you have the right attitude about the people around you.”

And this goes when there is a need to discipline too. Discipline is not about you, “it’s about making people understand where they fell short, helping them to change their actions in the future, and altering their perspective.” And remember this:

If someone is going to stay on the team, you make them better. If they need to leave, you let them leave with dignity and, in doing so, make them an ally in the future.

Never Agile Enough

Agility is about awareness and being flexible enough to do what needs to be done to get the desired outcome. That requires that you can be both a leader and a follower. Hayes calls it “dynamic subordination.” He says, “In an effective team, we must seamlessly move forward and back depending on the demands of the situation and the skills of the people around us. We don’t get locked into a particular job, a particular task, or a particular pattern: we maintain the agility to be whatever we need to be under the circumstances.”

Dynamic subordination also has a flip side. When you are in a position to make the lives of the people around you better, step up. Always be ready to do what you can do.

What plays into agility is knowing how to think. Have a process for decision-making that includes getting the broadest range of thought that you can.

The concrete knowledge you need is the easy part—anyone can learn that. But the details don’t matter if you don’t have the right process. And if you do have the right process, you can go anywhere. It’s why strong leaders are able to jump from one industry to another, one organization to another.

Some rules are made to be followed, and some are to be broken. Agility is knowing when to do which. Hayes asks everyone to think on two levels: run, and renovate. “You need to get the job done in the moment (‘run’) but you also need to figure out what might need to change to enable the greatest amount of long-term success (‘renovate’).” But run and renovate is about more than just making changes it should become part of everything you do. “When you push a teammate—when you challenge something they’ve done or try to initiate a hard conversation—you need to be thinking about how you’re trying to affect them in the moment (‘run’) and how you’re trying to shape their future (‘renovate’).”

Never Meaningful Enough

We all want to have meaning in what we do and impact the lives of those around us. It begins by having a belief system in place. Believe in something and start there. “The hard work is figuring out what the world needs and how it intersects with what feels most rewarding to you. Figure that out, and actually getting it done becomes the easy part.”

Having an impact on others means getting to know others and having deep conversations. Hayes lives by three principles in this regard: “to be intrusive in people’s lives, to be a do-er rather than a be-er, and to push to have real impact on those around me.” That doesn’t mean being rude or overstepping other people’s boundaries, but “we have to be willing to intrude, to ask the hard questions and have the hard conversations—or we’re not really making a difference.”

Being a do-er for others “means actually doing concrete things that make a difference in our friends’ lives, often at a cost to ourselves.” And impacting the lives of others gives meaning to our own lives as well.

Never enough means it’s never over.

I think we can simultaneously recognize how much we accomplish each day and also understand that our work is never done. There is always growth possible for each of us, ways we can push ourselves to be more excellent, more agile, and infuse our day-to-day with more meaning. There are always more people whose lives we can touch, more people we can lift up and inspire to get better and reach greater heights.

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