Leaders: We’re going to be waiting an awfully long time if we’re waiting for perfect. As a fellow perfectionist, I know that I am always tempted to do more or practice more, or add more or analyze more. Unfortunately, the drive for “more” is because I’m not always aware where the lines are drawn between good / great / exceptional. A lot of effort goes into chasing the lines instead of being grounded in the desired outcome.
I’m not suggesting that we perfectionists need to go with mediocre, or even good, but we DO need to let go of perfect every once in a while.
When leaders are waiting for perfect:
- Revision cycles become endless loops
- Vision gets obscured by the details
- Opportunities are missed
- Scope creep becomes a daily battle
- Analysis paralysis is a way of life
- People feel micromanaged, undervalued, and that they can never meet expectations
- Their personal plate of work gets filled to overflowing because they refuse to give up control or delegate critical tasks
You may be thinking, what’s wrong with high expectations?? Nothing! Just don’t confuse high expectations with waiting for perfect.
When YOU are waiting for perfect:
- Risks are limited because “I’m not ready” or “They’re not ready.”
- Fear of failure stops any chance for innovation
- Failure is not accepted and explored for learning but instead a source of self-flagellation
- You work to the point of exhaustion because perfect is always around the corner if only you push yourself hard enough to get there
The big secret is that perfection isn’t real-life or real-leadership. All of those beautiful models in magazines? Photoshop. Your favorite reality TV show? Semi-scripted. The charts that show immediate amazing results from new operations? Data selection.
If you are a recovering (or active!) perfectionist, how do you adjust the bar to GREAT or FANTASTIC without shooting for flawless? Start here:
Consider the cost / benefit of the time investment.
I’ll bet that you don’t wing your work but instead plan it to increase the likelihood of success. Clients rarely say “oh, just let me know how much time you spent and I’ll pay you.” Typically, you estimate and then agree on fee-for-service. Overruns and scope creep can turn the perfect work plan into little more than a decoration hanging on the wall of your office. It can also cost you, and your client real money. Great work can and should be delivered on time and in budget. Satisfaction goes down the more hours that are burned unnecessarily. Even exceptional work loses its luster when the price is five times the estimate.
Leaders are human, not automatons.
What happens if you’re not perfect? Does the world explode? Does your team tackle you and kick you to the corner? Does your Mom hold a press conference and publically disown you? Give yourself permission to do your best on every single task but not worry if your best is absolute “knock it out of the park” best or just the best you can do today. Be a role model for your team by using your judgment and your ability to separate the noise from what matters most.
Those bags under your eyes are stopping you from seeing reality.
I know that you don’t want to hear this but it’s OK to leave some things alone when they are good enough. Not everything needs to be the modern leader’s equivalent of the Sistine Chapel. We all have limits and hopefully we all have friends and family and people who care about us and want to see us once in a while. You’ll never reach perfection, and enjoy it, if you’re too exhausted to see that you’re already there. You need to decide for yourself when can you feel good about leaving, refreshing and recharging so you can do your best work tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that too.
Perfect is usually a mask for uncertainty and lack of confidence. Embrace your confidence, competence and creativity and never forget: High standards are achievable, impossibly high standards are not.
How have you managed the balance between your desire to be and deliver perfect and the reality that all you can ever do is you best?