Monday, July 27, 2015

Can a “Perfectionist” be an Effective Leader

Perfectionist sometimes makes effective managers, seldom effective leaders.

A perfectionist is commonly defined as “a person who refuses to accept any standard short of perfection.” Though often it becomes "muddy" when there are different definitions of what being a perfectionist means and the different yardsticks people use to judge perfectionism. From a leadership perspective, does being a perfectionist help you to be a more effective leader?

Being a perfectionist does not mean that one pretends to be perfect: Constantly searching for perfection is the best and most reliable mother of excellence. When the culture of constantly doing the best is promoted by a leader, that practice might just be the best motivating factor for subordinates, who would be made to understand that the habit of always performing at a level one step or more higher than where they are today prepares them to be ready to move up when their opportunity beacons. More often any leader who encourages subordinates to espouse the culture of constantly and positively searching for perfection, the best or greatness grows an organization that exudes success, cohesion, and excellence.

There is the place for perfection and the place for excellence - and lots in between. It really does depend on the circumstances. Sometimes, perfection is an absolute requirement. In other circumstances, it's not needed. Perhaps one of the traits of leadership is the grace and the wisdom to know which is required, and when. The traits that help make a leader effective depend on the situation. Being a perfectionist can result in not seeing the big picture and inhibit vision; at the same time, it can prevent problems. So perfectionists sometimes make effective managers, seldom effective leaders. The magic of different individuals is that they tackle challenges in their own way. If the leader plays to the strengths of each team member then you can't dictate how goals are reached. Just that they are reached to an agreed level of excellence. If the high standards are met, 'good enough' is good enough.

Perfection is highly desirable but is never achievable. It has no end, it continuously evolves. Excellence is coming close to the fringes of perfection. Coming close to the fringes of perfection means constant strides for excellence and making it a habit. Strive for perfection, so that you keep on excelling at higher and higher pace; but don't become an inflexible perfectionist. Indeed, many perfectionists are pessimistic and tend to focus on the failure. Failure is an effective teacher. The old cliche' that "those that aren't failing aren't trying" is true. Thomas Edison is one of the characters who failed forward. He set "expectations" of success and challenged all of his people to strive for the incredible. He was the opposite of the perfectionist in that he pursued "failure" intensely because each failure brought his team closer to the incredible breakthrough or innovation.

There is nothing wrong to strive for perfection in leadership for self and inspire others to do the same. The key is to understand the true meaning of perfection and propagating that understanding to others. The inflexible perfection can derail goals, squash dreams and deflate aspiration. It is important to strike the right balance, perfecting one’s skills and capability in reaching the goals and visions continuously, but no need to be perfect if being perfectionist means a lack the vision, stifling innovation and avoiding risk-taking.


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