There is this common belief that you have to be perfect in order to be excellent.
While it's accurate, great performances like a presentation, recital, or sales pitch can often look perfect, they never are. Regardless of the size, there are always incremental ways to improve.
However, most people act and think like they are falling short because they aren't perfect.
Take my 10-year-old son, John Ellis, as an example. His third-grade class was assigned a book writing project culminating in a publishing party where each student read their book in front of students, teachers, and parents. Then, for weeks leading up to the party, he wasn't sleeping right. After multiple attempts to get to the root of his sleeping issues, he finally came clean the night before the big event, "I just want it to be perfect." As the tears started to come down his face, I quickly realized it wasn't the project causing the tears and sleepless nights; it was the thought of perfection.
I will tell you the hard truth that I had to tell a crying 10-year-old; perfection isn't possible, and if achieving perfection is your only measure of success, you will miss the point of what you're doing altogether.
Perfection isn't possible, and if achieving perfection is the only measure of success, you will miss the point of what you're doing altogether.
Unfortunately, the mindset of wanting and needing things to be perfect doesn't stop with kids; it is an epidemic among leaders and professionals.
Perfection is defined as the action or process of improving something until it is faultless or as faultless as possible. While the definition isn't all that scary, no one currently living is faultless or even close to it. The word perfection comes from the Latin word perficere, meaning "to complete," which has nothing to do with being faultless.
Perfection is cruel because it seems attainable, but in reality, it's impossible. It's even more impossible over long periods of time versus small moments in time.
The reality is that perfection doesn't help you; it hurts you. It creates unrealistic expectations that further prevent you from performing at your best. Instead of focusing on perfection, pivot to opportunities.
The reason is that a perfection mindset is outcome-focused, yet an opportunity mindset is process-focused. That's important because the best leaders and performers are processed-focused instead of outcome-focused.
The best leaders are processed-focused instead of outcome-focused.
The truth is the bigger the stage, the bigger the opportunity to demonstrate your work.
Most managers and leaders get perfection wrong by not understanding the difference between striving to get better versus demanding perfection. This is a massive problem because striving relentlessly to get better and demanding perfection are two different things.
Striving relentlessly to get better creates a scenario for consistently elevating the standard of what is possible. Conversely, demanding perfection causes anxiety, depression, and people who never meet their potential. If that weren't bad enough, it causes team members to burn out and quit both themselves and their jobs.
So whether you are a team leader or simply trying to perform at a higher level, I want you to write down the following somewhere you can see it throughout the next week.
You have to be willing to be imperfect even to get close to perfection.
Said differently, you have to be willing to be imperfect to get better. You have to be ready to struggle, fail, learn, and overcome to perform at your best.
Becoming the leader or professional who constantly strives to get better versus demanding perfection won't be easy. No one wants to make mistakes, errors, or fail at something they care about. But if we have learned anything over the last few years, it's that we can change and adapt. We can reject the cultural narrative that everything is perfect and instead choose progress.
Since you are reading this, I know you are the kind of professional to choose excellence instead of perfection. You are the kind of leader to coach your people to strive to get better versus demanding perfection.
John is the CEO of LearnLoft, author of, F.M.L. Standing Out & Being a Leader and host of the 'Follow My Lead' Podcast. He writes or has been featured on Inc.com, LinkedIn Pulse, TrainingIndustry.com, eLearningIndustry.com, CNBC Money, and more. John completed his education at the University of Maryland College.