The Being The Best You Can Be Rather Than Being The Best Approach

Different people follow different philosophies regarding how they can grow. Some individuals build on their strengths and focus on what they can control.

They then embody the ethic of continuous improvement. They aim to become the best kind of person, athlete, artist, carpenter or professional they can be.

Some individuals take another approach. They focus on what they can’t control and compare themselves to others. This can be a spur but it can also have downsides. They may only feel satisfied if they are continually seen as being the best in their field.

Some individuals become the best they can be and, as a by-product, are seen as the best in their field. They then continue to build on what they can control, however, and focus on how they can fulfil their potential.

The following pages describe some ways that people can be encouraged to develop. You will, of course, following any of these principles in your own way.

Helping People To
Grow In Education

Henry Pluckrose was a remarkable teacher who I had the privilege to know. He inspired thousands of people around the world. Between 1968 and 1984 he was the head teacher of Prior Weston, a state primary school in London’s Barbican.

The school encouraged children to be creative. This was done through a curriculum which taught the key areas of literacy and numeracy, weaving them into every aspect of school life.

The results were impressive. It attracted a waiting list of students and hundreds of visitors from many countries. Here are the key principles that were followed by Henry and his staff at Prior Weston.

I first heard about Prior Weston on the BBC radio programme The World At One. It was introduced as a school that everybody liked. Students and parents were so enthusiastic that the presenter pleaded:

“Please tell me one thing that is wrong with the school.”

Prior Weston was successful because the staff believed in the educational rather than engineering approach to running a school. Whilst it was important to deliver certain results, these could be achieved by treating students as individuals.

Prior Weston enabled children to master both social and educational skills. It also encouraged them to express their individuality through the arts – such as poetry, music and acting.

Every year students went on scores of visits to local buildings, theatres, museums and work places. Here is a piece written by an eight-year-old after walking along a stormy beach.

A Storm

First it is calm, settled, innocent,
Then it gets unruly, restless, disturbed,
Then it is a monstrous giant, attacking, destroying,
Turning all its anger on the shore.
The waves grow bigger, fierce, more terrible,
Destroying everything in their path.
It is merciless, restless.
Boats overturned, people drowned, houses flooded.
It cares not for people dead,
It cares not for boats capsized.
It cares not for houses flooded.
It cares not.
Yet an hour afterwards, it is peaceful again,
Calm, settled, innocent.

Prior Weston’s approach to education proved successful with students, parents and even governments. At one point it was so popular that visitors were limited to 4,000 a year.

Henry was invited to advise decision makers in Scandinavia, North America and Asia. He showed how it was possible to encourage children to build on their strengths and aim to become the best they could be.

The Achieving An
A Grade Approach

Benjamin Zander has an interesting approach to encouraging students to become the best they can be. He is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and also a popular performer on the business speaking circuit.

During his lectures he draws parallels between his role as a conductor and the leader’s role in business. One concept he describes is the idea of getting an A grade.

Benjamin tutors hundreds of students who travel from around the world to pursue their musical studies in America. They are often financially supported by families who have saved to provide the necessary funding.

Naturally enough, the students feel nervous on their first day in college. Anxious not to disappoint their parents, they are worried about passing their final exams. Benjamin greets the assembled students by saying something like the following.

You Have An A Grade 

Let me put your minds at rest. You already have an A grade. But this is dependent on several things.

First, write me a letter dated May next year – the end of your time in college – titled Achieving An A Grade.

Imagine you are writing the letter after completing the course. Start with the words:

‘The reasons why I may deserve be considered to have achieved an A Grade during the academic year is because I have done the following things …’

Second, you and I will meet to discuss your proposed achievements and whether these deserve an A. If not, we will agree on what you want to you need to do to achieve another grade.

Third, it is then up to you to do the things required to reach the agreed grade.

This approach can help people to focus on what they can do to become the best they can be.

The Becoming The Best You Are
Capable Of Becoming Approach

John Wooden, the legendary American College basketball coach, encouraged his players to develop as human beings. He never mentioned winning but his teams won more titles than any other in College basketball history.

During his early career he began developing what later became known as his famous Pyramid of Success. This consisted of guiding principles that athletes could follow both on and off the court.

The base of the pyramid consisted of phrases such as: Industriousness; Friendship: Loyalty; Cooperation; Enthusiasm. Behind each of these words was an explanation.

The word Industriousness, for example, was explained in detail. This included the phrases:

In plain language, I mean you have to work – and work hard. There is no substitute for hard work. None. Worthwhile things come only from real work.

There were several levels to the Pyramid of Success. It culminated in the principle of Competitive Greatness. This was explained as:

Perform at your best when your best is required. Your best is required each day.

John Wooden built teams that aimed to live these values. He reinforced the Pyramid of Success by using certain maxims to remind people of their responsibilities. These included:

Be true to yourself … Help others … Make each day your masterpiece … There is a no substitute for hard work and careful planning … Be more interested in character than reputation.

The litmus test was that the approach worked. His teams left a legacy of winning titles, even though he did not talk about winning. Many of his former players describe how this helped them to do their best in life.

As mentioned earlier, there are many different philosophies regarding how people can grow. One approach is for them to aim to become the best they can be.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a specific activity where you may want to follow elements of this approach? How can you do this in your own way?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to complete the following sentences.

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