The Liabilities of Being a Perfectionist

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Too many leaders are paralyzed by perfection.

While perfect may be inspiring in a moment or for a season, it is impossible when leading for long-term impact. To lead day after day, year after year, chasing perfect will wear you out. It’s simply not realistic.

In a recent podcast episode I discussed how high-impact leaders, the kind with courage, charge forward, even in the face of uncertainty.

In fact, I believe courageous leaders don’t focus on their failures. They focus on lessons learned! They take risks and tackle the unknown. These leaders fully embrace Sheryl Sandberg’s statement that, “Done is better than perfect."

I want you to be a leader full of courage, with a propensity towards action. So I am exposing 3 problems with trying to be a perfect leader who only accepts “perfect” as a result. 

Perfection robs productivity.

Leaders execute.

They get things done. Quickly, consistently and (hopefully) with little drama. Perfectionist leaders get trapped "waiting" on something to be perfect. Conditions must be ideal and every wrinkle ironed out before a perfectionist can take action. The problem is, opportunities don’t wait! Too often we allow perfect to slow up our progress. Done is better than perfect.  

To move away from perfect and closer to productivity, pull the trigger on a task when it is 80% complete. Go public with a plan before you have every detail figured out. Allow someone to hold you accountable to execute instead of waiting too long. 

Execute Quickly. Make pulling the trigger a habit. Set dates for yourself for going public. Tweak Consistently. As soon as you go public, begin to make adjustments. Google uses the "beta phase" of any project to allow for improvements. Tinker Occasionally. Never stop improving. Habitually adjustment to better any system, project or idea.

Perfection can masquerade as excellence.

Everyone should strive to do their best work. Excellence should be a value that guides your work, drives you to deliver more than is asked, and pushes you to constantly improve. However, excellence has a dark side. Unguarded excellence creates unrealistic standards of perfection. Excellence isn’t an act, but a habit. Perfection is a singular, elusive moment.

In his book, Moving Past Perfect, Thomas Greenspon referred to the following quote:

"Excellence is risk. Perfection is fear. Excellence is effort. Perfection is anger and frustration. Excellence is openness to being wrong. Perfection is having to be right. Excellence is spontaneity. Perfection is control. Excellence is flow. Perfection is pressure. Excellence is confidence. Perfection is doubt. Excellence is journey. Perfection is destination. Excellence is acceptance. Perfection is judgement. Excellence is encouraging. Perfection is criticizing."

Perfection doesn't scale.

Chasing perfect chokes growth. Why? Because perfection depends on you! To maintain perfect you have to make every decision and approve every move. Perfect does not scale because you do not scale. Perfection demands an expert talent; excellence requires an empowering leader.

Our tendency to hold on to the past for too long or control every move stunts our team’s growth. The growth of your organization depends on you raising your own leadership capacity. You scale your leadership when you pour it into other people. The results may not be perfect, but it will be powerful.

As you tackle today, do so with excellence. Make it a habit you value. Excellence will lead you to be more fulfilled, more effective and less stressed than the pursuit of perfection ever could.