I know this is going to sound crazy but, despite everything we have ever been taught about business, leadership and success, as a business owner I have found that “perfection” — that which we’re all supposed to strive for and expect from everyone on our team — can actually be detrimental to both our personal and organizational effectiveness.
Before going any further, I should clarify that I am not in any way proposing or even condoning conformity — that to which John F. Kennedy referred to as “the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” Quite the contrary. What I am referring to has to do with accepting reality. The sooner we accept the fact that no one is perfect, the sooner we can get to work on improving — and the fact is that, in this fast-paced, ever-changing business environment in which we are forced to compete, if we’re not continually improving and evolving, we’re not going to survive, let alone succeed. I’m sure that most business owners would agree with that fact, so it’s not too much of a stretch to go one step further and ascertain that the very need for continual improvement necessarily implies that we and our organizations are not perfect. No shame in that.
I also want to make an important distinction between “perfection” and “excellence.” Perfection is, quite simply, impossible. Excellence, however, is possible despite our imperfections — and that is what we should realistically be striving for both personally and organizationally.
In my own business, I have come to appreciate this distinction in two important areas.
The first is at the personal/interpersonal level. The success of any team depends in large part on the individual and collective contributions of its team members. While I expect the absolute very best from each of my team members, I also expect that mistakes will be made from time to time — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The late John Wooden, legendary UCLA basketball coach who won 10 NCAA national championships within 12 years, once said, “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not doing anything.” Self-improvement, creativity and innovation all involve making mistakes we can learn from — and I have found at Lemartec that creating the right environment in which team members are encouraged to grow and expand their reach goes a long way in terms of their personal and professional satisfaction at work. And while it is certainly necessary to set limits on the areas and levels of acceptability where mistakes can occur — especially where the reputation and well-being of your business is concerned — in the end, you will find that your team’s overall effectiveness will improve.
The second area involves the decision-making process at the organizational level. No business owner wants to make a mistake when faced with an important decision, so great care must be taken during the discernment process as every option and consequence of each decision is made. But there’s a difference between being “prudent” and being “limiting”; between being “conservative” and being “ineffective”. Running a business necessarily involves taking risks. There’s nothing for it. We can analyze the risk and we can mitigate it to as great an extent as possible, but we cannot avoid it. The perfect set of circumstances we might wish for may not be available to us — in fact, they seldom are.
As business owners, we should not allow our false expectations for perfection to jeopardize our real need for excellence and effectiveness.