Why Perfectionism is a Curse for Great Leaders

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Business decisions do not need perfection. It’s too expensive. And it does not exist.

If you are a pharmacist or a surgeon then perfection is the given, but business is not about perfection; it’s about progress.

Are You Aiming for Perfection...or Stalling?

There is no perfect decision to be made, but some leaders waste the time and resources of the organization trying to get to perfection. What is actually happening is that the leader lacks the confidence to make the decision, and it’s costing the organization every day they postpone the decision.

You will hear catch phrases like, “flawless execution” or the buzzword of the moment, and see metrics established that really can’t be measured. It’s a way to stay in the “grey” but not make the call. The metrics they choose can be interpreted multiple ways because they really are not quantifiable metrics, just qualitative and up for debate.

Leaders that lack the confidence to make the decision will ask for more data, more research, talk to more people and then kick the decision down the road a month or two so they can keep it active but not actually have to make a decision.

These leaders can’t face their fear of failure. I have seen many managers and leaders that were dying for the big job and the big promotion. They wanted to lead big work groups and finally have the ultimate goal, “DECISION RIGHTS.” They wanted to be the ones to get to make the call. They spent time in their offices finding flaws in the way the work was developing and knew they would make it better if they could just make the call. The world would change.

What happens to many of them? They can’t make call. They fear failure. They should have been told day one by their boss that they are going to fail, probably many times, and that it is okay as you are making progress, learning, and moving forward.

How Great Leaders Embrace Progress, Not Perfectionism

The best leaders understand this, embrace it and make it part of the culture of the organization. They are trying to make progress, not have perfection. They do have long term goals and metrics, but understand it’s impossible to see that precise path 2 or 3 years away. They develop annual operating plans with hard metrics, assign them to people to get accomplished, and measure the progress monthly or quarterly and make adjustments.  

These leaders drive an iterative process and keep taking solid steps along the path. They make mistakes and abandon those ideas, hit on some good ideas and scale them and learn along the way.  

A winning path is scattered with mistakes and miss-steps. But most importantly, it’s laced with learning for the organization. They have clear short term, measurable metrics that keep them on the right path. Their decision are not casual or without data, but they keep the process moving.

These leaders are also best at communicating what is happening along the way to the larger organization. They share what worked, and they give others the credit for the success. More importantly, they describe what did not work and why. They discuss what lead to the decision that did not work out, what went wrong, and how to correct it in the future. They give others all the credits for the win and take all the blame for the mistakes.

Great leaders make progress and can’t afford perfection.