Technical people, the quantitative business people, engineers, developers, programmers etc. are forever looking for perfection. One of the things I’m always working on with them is realizing that the goal is success not perfection. Perfection is an unattainable standard; it’s not realistic. What we should be looking for is success, and we can get it without perfection. Sure, this concept drives some OCD people nuts, but that’s where we need to be- at a place where success is the standard. 

So how do we get there? By defining success using very clear expectations, making some really good decisions and then being able to recognize when our objectives have been met.

Setting Reasonable and Clear Expectations 

There’s actually another standard that leaders need to refine, and that’s making sure the expectations are clear. There’s no way around it, we have to set reasonable and clear expectations and if we do, it’s easier to determine what success is. If the objective isn’t known or isn’t crystal clear, it’s easy to keep pounding away on something minor, looking for that one percent of extra perfection. Dumb, and wasteful, but easy.

Leadership Judgment and Decision-Making

It would be nice to have every piece of available information about an issue before making a decision. It’s just not going to happen. We’re decision-making leaders because we don’t have complete information. In fact, in most cases, we’re lucky to have 60, 70, maybe 80 percent of the information we need and that’s when leadership judgment comes into play.

Recognizing Success Before You Pass It:  Having Clear Objectives

It becomes pretty obvious when we pass success and start pursuing perfection. For example, if the target or goal is to open a satellite office in Philadelphia by a certain date and you’re delaying the opening because you’ve changed your mind six or seven times on the color of the carpet (don’t laugh—that’s a real example), then what you’re doing is passing success and striving for perfection, and totally missing the point. Success in this case is opening the office. The carpet is just a detail, and minutiae at that. When we get lost or stray from the path to success, it’s generally because we are looking for perfection and missing the central purpose of a project. The key is in knowing when you’ve reached success, defined by reasonable expectations, really good decisions and clear objectives.


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