When I was a boy my parents encouraged me to “be the very best.”  Back then, only the very best got a trophy!  Nowadays the Wheaties® cereal box mantra has changed to “just do your very best” and all the teams get a trophy just for playing.   It’s been a source of discomfort for me for years.

Now before you jump on the “promoting self-esteem” band wagon, let me say that I do not believe a young sand lot baseball player has failed unless he or she makes it to the World Series.  But, I keep remembering hearing an interview with Olympic gold medal gymnast Mary Lou Retton in which an interviewer said: “We honestly didn’t know you had it in you.”  Smiling, she responded, “Me either.”

Mary Lou didn’t stop at some definition of her personal best—she went beyond.  When the customer service director of a client company spent a night at a Ritz-Carlton Hotel, she returned saying, “What we thought was A level service is only a C+.  We need to get much better and we didn’t even know it!”

Great mentors are champions of distinction; cheerleaders for excellence.  They encourage their protégés to “play over their head”—excel beyond their definition of merit.  Are you encouraging your protégé to strive for the very best or are you settling for what your protégé thinks is his or her best

P.S. Don’t miss the great blog post by Colin Weatherby called How Rejection Can Inspire Great Movements: The Story of Makers posted on March 15, 2013 on FastCompany.