To Embrace Excellence, Abandon Perfection: A Leader’s Guide

To Embrace Excellence, Abandon Perfection: A Leader's Guide

To Embrace Excellence, Abandon Perfection: A Leader’s Guide

The pervasive myth of “Perfection Syndrome” recently interjected itself into a coaching session I had with a high-achieving executive. Like many leaders, this executive was entangled in the pursuit of flawlessness – perfect content, impeccable delivery, and unanimously supportive reception for his upcoming strategy presentation to C-Suite peers. But that is the pitfall and the paradox of perfectionists. By constantly chasing ever-elusive perfection leaders miss the mark on excellence.

Winston Churchill brilliantly encapsulated this dilemma when he declared, “Perfection is the enemy of progress.” This timeless insight reveals how efficiency, productivity, and performance, often outpace perfection on the road to success, especially in terms of leadership.

Here are some effective ways that you can liberate yourself from the chains of perfectionism for the sake of excellence:

Consider the practical implications of striving for a perfect presentation. Being fixated on faultlessness often leads to excessive preparation and an undue amount of time spent polishing what is already shiny enough. What does that cost you? Progress and promptness – not to mention the expense of unnecessary effort.

Here are 6 points to remember if you feel the need to be perfect.

1) Strive for Excellence, Not Perfection: Everyone is innately imperfect and we live in an imperfect world. Embrace this reality. Striving for excellence is about improving and growing, not aspiring to a humanly unattainable standard of perfection.

Excellence Tip: Set Progressive Milestones
Rather than aiming for a distant perfect outcome, set achievable, progressive milestones that focus on continuous improvement. Recognize and celebrate each milestone achieved, which can motivate you and provide a sense of accomplishment while still advancing toward the broader goal.

2) Stop Comparing Yourself to Others: If you fall into the comparison trap, realize that it undermines your self-esteem and fails to fully acknowledge your inherent strengths. Instead of measuring yourself against others, recognize your gifts and lead with them.

Excellence Tip: Identify and Leverage Personal Strengths
Reflect on your unique strengths and how they contribute to your leadership style. Set personal bests as your own measuring stick benchmarks and strive to surpass them. Create a personal excellence framework based on self-improvement rather than external comparisons.

3) Delayed Decisions Lead to Missed Opportunities:  Perfectionism can throttle decision-making, and I frequently see this in my work with senior leaders. Perfectionist leaders may procrastinate, waiting for the perfect moment or the perfect set of data. This pursuit of perfection can be energy-intensive and taxing, while it delivers diminishing returns. Additionally, this indecisiveness can filter down through the ranks, causing a bottleneck effect where projects and processes are stalled while awaiting approvals or revisions.

Excellence Tip: Prioritize Agile Decision-Making
Train yourself to make informed decisions with the best available information rather than waiting for complete certainty. Develop an agile mindset where adaptability is key. Recognize that decisions may need to be made now, and then refined over time. Establish clear decision-making criteria that balance risks and benefits, enabling faster and more responsive leadership.

4) You Don’t Have to Know EVERYTHING: Nurture a curiosity mindset and constantly learn from others. Harness your team’s collective wisdom. Doing so will not only distribute the weight of decision-making but will also foster a dynamic and cross-pollination of ideas and expertise.

Excellence Tip: Foster a Collaborative Learning Environment
Encourage open dialogue and knowledge sharing within your team. By admitting what you don’t know and showing a willingness to learn, you create a vibrant space where team members can contribute their unique expertise − something everyone likes to do that boosts teamwork and morale. That approach enhances collective knowledge and decision-making success.

5) If You’re Not Perfect, You May Fail: Perfectionism fears failure, yet failure can be a profound and valuable teacher. Every mishap is a lesson in disguise, informing you of what works and, crucially, what doesn’t – so you don’t repeat costly mistakes.

Excellence Tip: Reframe Failure as Feedback
Normalize the experience of failure as a valuable feedback mechanism. Think of mistakes as new information to learn from. Analyze and deconstruct failures to extract lessons and actionable insights. Implement a system of reflection and adaptation where each failure leads to improved strategies and a better understanding of the path to success.

6) Innovation Stagnation: A leader obsessed with perfection may hesitate to innovate because they are afraid to introduce new ideas. This can lead to a stagnant environment where safe and tried status quo methods are preferred over new, potentially groundbreaking ideas. By waiting for the “perfect” idea to come along and prove itself, leaders often miss out on golden opportunities that come from experimentation and calculated risk-taking.

Excellence Tip: Implement a “Fail Fast” Philosophy
Encourage your team to rapidly storyboard ideas and embrace the concept of “failing fast” to learn quickly what doesn’t work so you can move on and make progress. Establish an environment where experimentation is valued over perfection. Celebrate the lessons learned from each trial and iteration, fostering a culture of innovation that rewards creative risk-taking and continuous improvement.


By recognizing the pitfalls of perfectionism and adopting these principles, leaders can enhance their effectiveness and, ironically, come much closer to their ideal of perfect leadership.

Remember, the goal is not to shun perfection as an ideal − but to realistically realign our understanding of what truly drives success and fulfillment when you are in a leadership role.

No Comments

Post A Comment