In our last article, we focused the discussion on organizational success by being reasonable and rational assessing the capacity and capability of the business. The context is around effectively leading the organization in the current new reality of a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) business environment. In this month’s discussion, we look at the same context applied to one’s self-leadership. How leaders lead themselves goes a long way in determining their effectiveness in leading others. A frequent self-leadership challenge we see in our coaching practice is the idea of striving for perfection. When we engage with a leader who is on this path of perfection, we ask the question that is the title of this discussion, “Are you trying to be perfect or excellent?”
The first thing one notices in the question is the inference there is a difference between being perfect and being excellent. There are a multitude of examples where excellence is achieved without perfection. An NFL Team with less than ten wins in a season (NY Giants in 2011) can win the Super Bowl. A pro baseball player (Carl Yastrzemski in 1968) can win a batting title by getting a hit in only 3 out of every 10 at bats. Plenty of leaders are leading businesses as market leaders in revenue, profit, client satisfaction, etc. who are less than perfect themselves. Clearly, a leader can be imperfect and still achieve excellence!
So, what does imperfect excellence look like? Of course, the answer to the question is going to look different depending on who is answering the question. However, the common obstacle we see in leaders is their reference point. Leaders striving for perfection are more often comparing themselves to themselves. Their inner dialog is constantly cycling through questions of how it could have been better, even after achieving excellence by a predetermined goal. Leaders striving for excellence are more often comparing themselves to others in their markets or industries. Excellence is being the best at something whereas perfection demands being the best flawlessly.
When we look at the impact on effective leadership, we can easily see how excellence is by far the greater sustainable leadership goal. Effective leadership is setting goals and achieving desired results. It requires the ability to build and lead the necessary teams who can achieve those desired results over-and-over again. People are flawed by nature, so it stands to reason that any leader who is effectively leading teams is leading from an understanding that mistakes will happen. The perfectionist leader sees mistakes as failure and a personal afront to their self-inflicted and unrealistic view of themselves. This negatively impacts their teams as the leader’s perfectionism becomes the end goal. This often leads to micromanagement and teams losing their focus and effectiveness. The road to excellence, however, is seeing the mistakes as learning opportunities. When leaders consciously learn through their mistakes, it reinforces a team climate that stretching and working outside the comfort zone is acceptable. The inherent psychological safety and trust allows their team to literally grow along the path to excellence!
Most every leader in business claims to have high standards of performance for themselves and their teams. The context in which their high standards are executed determines whether the leader and the team can achieve them in a sustainable way. Perfectionists will flame out as they will struggle with the difference between high standards and impossible standards. Leaders in search of excellence will maintain their focus on realistically high standards to become best-in-class!
What does imperfect excellence look like for your leadership standards? If you don’t know, we can help.
Nice post! As I like to say "Strive for perfection, but settle for Excellence, you will be less disappointed!"
Great to hear from you and thanks for weighing in. The most important element is knowing what excellence looks like so the leader's efforts are effectively focused on realistic desired results.