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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, December 03, 2016 10:01 pm

Is the goal perfection or excellence?

Lisa Green | The Journal Gazette

Perfection. It seems like the best outcome to expect.

Set the bar high. Set the example. Expect others to follow.

Seems simple, but the approach could be flawed, according to a "Lead from Within" blog by Lolly Daskal that I read in November. Believing that perfect is a goal was on Daskal’s list of 12 of the "Most Dangerous Leadership Mindsets."

Other dangerous mindsets ranged from seeing the glass as half empty – pointing out the bad and hoping that will get people to improve – to isolating yourself from others because you’re so immersed in process and procedures instead of people.

Most of the list provided good insight or reminders. But the one about perfection stayed on my mind most. That’s probably because I recall during a leadership training program years ago reading one of Jim Collins’ books, "Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t."

I’ve still got the book in my office at work. One of Collins’ cautions was to avoid letting good be the enemy of great.

Most people can think of work or projects that with extra planning, time, effort and communication could have been great, instead of just good.

Sometimes, the difference is between great and excellent.

Sometimes it’s a matter of priorities.

Leadership and working with teams requires constantly evaluating them. Maybe some work or projects shouldn’t be pursued unless everyone involved can invest the resources to ensure they have a shot at perfection. Maybe some things need to be done, but good is good enough and great would be worth celebrating.

Daskal suggested in her blog that perfection "doesn’t exist and perfect can never be a goal."

"When you aim to be perfect," she wrote, "you’re setting yourself up for failure – either by paralyzing yourself into inaction or by endlessly trying to reach an unreachable goal."

She did offer an alternative: "Set perfectionism aside and focus on excellence."

I’d like to think perfection – meeting that ideal goal or standard – can be a realistic option, depending on the task and the timing.

I have to admit though, the longer I have something that I’m working on, I tend to go back on it numerous times trying to tweak, hone and improve until it’s completely out of my hands.

So maybe that notation of perfection does create some undue stress – striving for what Daskal calls the "unreachable."

But if I can’t have perfect, I’d be happy to settle for excellence.

Project wreckers

"Leading the Unleadable: How to Manage Mavericks, Cynics, Divas, and Other Difficult People," by Alan Willett was released just a few days after Thanksgiving.

The book was written by an insider in the tech industry, where personality issues "routinely wreck projects," a description of the book says. 

"Whether it comes from direct reports or people above, outbursts, irrational demands, griping, and other disruptions need to be dealt with – and it’s your responsibility to do it," the description says.

But it also says the book reveals "a core truth: most people actually want to contribute results, not cause headaches."

The book is designed to help managers move those who might be considered "problem people" into "productive team players" or those viewed as troublesome to tremendous.

To share a thought, a favorite quote or other wisdom about leadership, email Lisa Green at Lead On also appears online as a blog at