I remember my relief when hearing the words “Good Enough!” from a boss a long time ago. Previous bosses were often asking for more, getting upset when the product was delivered with minor errors, even when an impossible deadline was met.
Ahhhhh! To err is human. What a relief to hear a leader acknowledge a simple truth.
When I became ‘the boss’ I therefore promised to be happy with ‘good enough’. My team and I would strive for excellence, but not at all cost. Humans would always come first, and I wouldn’t sweat the small stuff.
Recently, I lost my patience and realized I’d fallen into the perfectionism trap. I was starting to focus on tiny things I judged as not good enough. I could blame increased expectations by clients, or what I perceived as my staff’s inattention. Someone must be to blame, right?
The side effects of pointing fingers
Pointing fingers unfortunately leads to risk-aversion. People excited about their contribution now hesitate. Their focus is narrowed to pleasing a higher up, losing sight of what is really at stake.
Ask yourself: Will this matter a few years from now? In most cases the answer is “No”.
At a client site the other day, I was told that the Assistant Deputy Minister would have a fit if one typo was found in a 30 page PowerPoint deck! When did perfection become the standard for human endeavor? Humm…..
Back in my own team, I gave myself a shake, and apologized for forgetting we are humans, not robots. We discussed what we could do differently, changed the process and schedule, gave ourselves a break, remembered why we were doing what we were doing, and clarified roles and responsibilities.
And then we tried again, slipped again, adjusted again, and are continuing to experiment because that’s what work is supposed to be about: doing our best, continuously improving, enjoying the process of creation.
Leader, please look at your processes first
Next time you’re tempted to focus on the error and look for a culprit, first look at your process for doing this work.
- Is there anything you can change, such as a sequence of steps or a timetable?
- If you can’t modify the process, can you live with a margin of error? (Yes, I hope).
Finally what are you ignoring, avoiding, bypassing, or forgetting altogether when you fall prey to perfectionism, your energy focused on a few little things? Probably quite a lot.
As the old adage goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. In other words, good enough is usually quite excellent, and there is always an upgrade down the line.
I look forward to reading your comments on how you broke free of perfectionism.