Leadership & Perfectionism

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Leadership & PerfectionismThis may be difficult for some the get their heads around, but perfectionism is not a leadership trait. Leadership requires attention to detail and a commitment to quality, but rarely does it require perfection. While leadership doesn’t require being perfect, it does require doing what is needed and necessary. Perhaps one of the biggest flaws with the concept of perfection is found in who defines perfect – the definition of perfection will almost always vary radically from person to person. In today’s post I’ll share my thoughts on the myth of perfection.

General George S. Patton said it best: “A good plan violently executed today is far and away better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” The pursuit of perfection is one of great adversaries of speed, performance, and execution. In fact, at the risk of being controversial I’m going to take the position that perfection does not exist. I hate to break it to you, but those of you who regard yourselves as perfectionists simply exhibit perfectionistic tendencies in an unrealistic attempt to achieve what cannot be had.

New Flash: speed trumps perfectionism. Perfectionists tend to be very busy, but rarely are they productive. Moreover, the pursuit of perfectionism rarely results in a competitive advantage, but it will result in time delays, cost overruns, missed deadlines, and unkept commitments. I would suggest that rather than seeking what cannot in most cases ever be achieved, that it makes more sense to seek the highest standard of quality that can be delivered in the shortest period of time, and that is economically balanced relative to the constraints of an ever shifting marketplace.

A huge problem for leaders who regard themselves as perfectionists is that they often set the chinning bar so high that others feel as if they cannot ever meet expectations. As a leader, if you find yourself always wondering “why others just don’t seem to get it” then you likely don’t value the contributions of others as much as you desire others to adopt your thinking. Leaders who fall prey to perfectionism tend to focus on the negatives having a hard time looking past perceived weaknesses to find strengths. The downside of this is that it stifles candor, creativity and innovation and often leads to a my way or the highway environment.

Here’s another pet peeve – the phrase “would you rather have something quick or right” makes me cringe every time I hear it. It is one of the most common copouts inept leaders use in masking their decisioning inadequacies. It’s as if using this phrase somehow justifies delaying pronouncement on the grounds that they currently possess insufficient information to make an astute decision. Almost without fail, this tactic is a trite and clichéd attempt to somehow insinuate that speed in decisioning is a weakness, and that quick decisions are somehow synonymous with reckless decisions. I would caution you against confusing speed with reckless abandon…I’m a big proponent of planning, assessment, analysis and strategy, but only if it is concluded in a timely fashion. “Analysis Paralysis” leads to missed opportunities and failed initiatives. Speed is your friend…embrace it…leverage it…win with it.

Time to face the facts: we live in a digital world where the speed of engagement, response, interaction, communication, delivery etc., was once a unique competitive value proposition – It is now a requirement for survival. As a leader you must quickly be able to assess risk and make timely decisions. Put simply, leaders cannot be successful being guided by fear and hesitation. I can tell you that without question the best leaders are able to make very complex decisions, on short time frames, and with incomplete information. If you don’t possess the experience or intellectual acuity to make quick decisions that are also good decisions, then you better surround yourself with sound counsel and advice from those who can.

While there is little debate that speed can create an extreme competitive advantage, it is not well understood that the lack of speed can send a company (or a career) into a death spiral. Agility, fluidity, decisiveness, commitment and focus all lead to the creation of speed which results in a certainty of execution. There is great truth in the old saying ”the best decision is a quick decision, the next best decision is no decision, and the worst decision is a slow decision.”

My bottom line is this…if you wear perfectionism as a badge of honor it is time for a shift in thinking. Others won’t see it as a badge of honor, but as a sign of pride, ego, arrogance or ignorance.

As always, I invite you to share your thoughts and observations in the comments below.