Jack Nicklaus knows a little bit about being the best. Nicknamed the "Golden Bear," Nicklaus is considered one of the greatest golfers of all time. He won 18 major championships (more than anyone), competed in 164 events (more than anyone), and finished with 73 PGA Tour victories.
And yet, many would say Nicklaus's greatest golfing moment, had nothing to do with winning. In fact, it was dramatically defined by him choosing NOT to win.
BBC, the world's oldest and largest broadcaster by number of employees, recounts what is perhaps Jack Nicklaus's finest feat:
"At the 1969 Ryder Cup, an event that was dominated by the USA at the time, Britain's Jacklin and American Nicklaus reached the 18th hole all-square with the overall scores tied at 15.5-15.5.
It was the final match of the competition and, after Nicklaus holed his putt to make par, Jacklin faced a three-footer to earn the first-ever tie in the event.
Instead of forcing his rival to take his shot, Nicklaus picked up Jacklin's ball marker and conceded the tie.
"I don't think you would have missed that Tony," Nicklaus said, "but I didn't want to give you the chance'."
Nicklaus was widely criticized for not being cut-throat in that competition. But for Nicklaus, the "game of golf" and the people he played with were bigger than some singular effort to "be the best."
Nicklaus's gesture would become famously known as "The Concession." In his rookie Ryder Cup debut, Nicklaus demonstrated that at times being "better" is better than being the best.
Simon Sinek, in his book The Infinite Game, states that "Infinite-minded leaders understand that 'best' is not a permanent state. Instead, they strive to be better. 'Better' suggests a journey of constant improvement. 'Better,' in the Infinite Game, is better than 'best.'"
Seth Godin states that "There's rarely a straight line from here to better. As we move through time, we’re often presented with opportunities that are carefully disguised as problems. And every day we’re forced to make a choice. The default might be to hold back, but it’s not the only option. The chance to move toward better can become a habit."
If your belief and behavior are solely tied to being the best, or that winning is everything and the only thing, then you will be tempted to take short-cuts. You'll run the risk of being short-sighted or having results that are short-lived.
If your self worth is tied to your stock or sales performance, then a crisis like the Coronavirus will catapult you into chaos, confusion, or even clinical depression.
As a coach, I challenge you to see the value in "direction, not perfection." I'm not a proponent that every salesperson should receive a participant's plaque. Sales and business are no place for the weak of heart. They are high-performance sports. If you are not dedicated to getting better, you'll get left behind. But there is tremendous value in getting better day over day. Step by step.
There is nothing wrong with striving to be the best. It's a good start. Just don't stop there. Best is a short-term destination. Better is a perpetual, never-ending pursuit.
Be a life-long learner. Contact a coach that can partner with you to create and capture new possibilities. What small step can you take today to become better?
Jack Nicklaus taught us a tremendous, time-honored truth. There are times when "becoming better is better than being the best."
If you have a passion to pursue getting better, I'd love to have a discussion with you.