Perfection is an elusive thing. A perfect score on a test might be a typical example of how we think of "perfection". But tests are, for the most part, about recalling information. Business, on the other hand, is forward-looking and requires strategic thinking. For this reason, chasing perfection can be a dangerous goal.
This Harvard Business Review article looks at three ways chasing "perfection" can actually cause more harm than good, and here are some of my thoughts on each one.
1. Chasing perfection means you fail to delegate
I've discussed before how failure to delegate can be an indication of poor prioritization and time management skills. But this article brings a new perspective into the mix.
"Perfectionists" are typically very well organized, and manage their time well. So why would this create issues with delegation? Well, put simply, perfectionists don't think anyone can do the job as well as they can, so they refuse to delegate.
This means more work (which creates another challenge for perfectionists). It also means that your team isn't being challenged, and fails to grow. You are sending them a message, "I don't believe in you." That is not leadership!! In the most extreme case, you might even be paying people to NOT work!
As I've said many times on these pages: Good delegation is a primary function of leadership, and a hallmark of a well-functioning team.
2. A constant urge to "overdeliver"
Like an inability to delegate, a constant desire to overdeliver puts your deadlines at risk. "You must publish!" is a favorite quote of mine from Seth Godin's Linchpin. In short, he is telling us that no matter the work, eventually it has to have a deadline.
There will always be more information to research, more data to include, more chart, tables... more, more, more. But with that frame of mind, your work will never be complete, because "perfect" will always be just out of reach.
This desire to constantly "outperform" can also create a tremendous amount of anxiety as you never feel that "your best" is never good enough. This can get even worse when deadlines are approaching.
This state of anxiety means you won't be at your best when dealing with staff and customers alike, and will create blind spots as you are overly focused on minute details (and probably not thinking clearly either).
This is a very common theme among perfectionists, and one I personally have to fight. I call it pressing. You could also call it, "always going the extra mile."
While outworking your competition is a great thing, you cannot keep the proverbial gas pedal to the metal all the time. More work, or working harder is not always the answer. Doubling down on a bad strategy, for example, can be very bad for business!
The human body is like any other machine. It has to be rested, refueled, and properly cared for in order to consistently perform, and avoid a breakdown.
The same goes for your team. You cannot push them to their limits day in and day out without something breaking down. The irony here is that by pressing to chase perfection, you wind up hurting the quality of the work because you (or your team) are too tired physically and mentally to perform.
I hope that you can see how each of these concepts has the ability to create, or feed off of, the others. "I can't delegate this, so now I have to press to get this done!" "I'm making another tweak to XYZ, so we need to PRESS! "I don't like what I'm seeing, so I'm going to finish the rest of the project myself (PRESS!!)."
So... How do you avoid these issues in your business?
Vision & Communication - When we can clearly see and describe the desired outcome - both with our teams and clients - then we create clear expectations for the project.
With clear vision, you can see the areas which can be delegated, and those which might require a bit more experience or precision.
Strategy - With a clear vision, we can thoughtfully work through the various steps needed to complete a project, and build in some additional time and resources where trouble spots could emerge.
This should allow you to avoid having to press or make sudden changes that your team isn't prepared for. These things happen, but they should be the exception, not the rule.
Mindfulness - In your strategy, build in time for pauses and reflection. How many times have you had an AMAZING idea while out for a walk, or in the shower? Some amazing work happens when we slow down and allow our mind to find quiet and calm away from work or a project.
Build this time in for your team, and for yourself. Mindfulness is especially important for hard-driving leaders. Pauses will allow you to catch yourself before falling into these leadership traps.
In the end, better outcomes all begin with better leadership.
About the Author:
Matt Beckmann is the Founder & Managing Director of Ascent Consultants. In addition to experience as a former Chief of Staff to the Missouri Auditor and as a Corporate Vice President and General Counsel, he has advanced training and certifications in law, business, coaching, athletics, and other disciplines. His blog content, inspired by his deep passion for unlocking his reader's best potential, consistently equips business owners and individuals with the knowledge and resources to overcome obstacles that may be hindering growth.
Ascent Consultants provides business and project management consulting services, and executive and leadership development coaching. By converting client growth goals into an actionable "game plan," we lead companies and individuals to extraordinary outcomes.