Perfection Perspectives

By Martin Haworth
Martin Haworth

As a leadership trainer, I am always conscious that I often learn from the participants in the groups that I work with. I was working with a group of first-time leaders recently, when a much better understanding of challenges they suffer when managing their time, came to the fore.

The session was all about delegation. It’s a topic I’ve trained in many times and as we were debating why delegation is so difficult, one of the participants raised the issue of ‘perfection’. They were very busy, they told me and that was because they were continually checking that their team members were delivering to their own exacting standards.

“I want what they do to be perfect,” she said.

In the ensuing conversation across the group, we came to debate the value of ‘perfect’ and it was clear that delivering anything less than this, as the accountable manager, was a big concern for many of them.

“But what is ‘perfect’?” I asked them.

“As good as me.” Came the reply.

We had already done some work on perspectives and how each and every one of us has a view of the world that is different. Sometimes in measurable ways and sometimes in subtle ways that we have learnt through the experiences in our lives. Our world view, is always at least slightly different to every person we come across in our lives.

“So, how does ‘perfect’ fit into this?” I asked, “Who’s perfect are you measuring by?”

If it is ‘perfect’ measured by the organisation, on whose terms is that ‘perfect’? If it is the leader’s ‘perfect’, then who is to say that is ‘perfectly’ right? And who is to say that the leader’s measure of ‘perfect’ is seen the same way as the organisation; or customers; peers or other team members?

What is ‘perfect’ anyway?

Of course, there is no such thing. ‘Perfect’ is, by its very nature, always unachievable. Because ‘perfect’ is as subjective as every individual measuring it. Everyone’s measure of ‘perfect’ is unique.

So then, I asked the managers, if there is no such thing as ‘perfect’, how do you decide what is acceptable enough.

As this was linked to the capacity to delegate, it opened a whole new view on what they could – and could not – let go of in the work they were doing. The need for their team members to replicate the leader’s standard of ‘perfection’, was now irrelevant. It was time for the leader to become more objective about the outputs of their people in real terms and not the imaginary view of one person.

It is simply not strong enough to measure ‘perfection’ only by one person. They need more input from other to avoid a blind spot.

Not only, we discovered, is a measure of ‘perfect’ by one person different than someone else’s, but it might well demand even more than is reasonable, putting greater strains on resources, performance and even relationships. And surely a group of people’s consensus on nearly ‘perfect’ is much more likely to be a much better measure anyway.

Letting go of ‘perfect’ was part of the way forward we realised, and whilst some expertise was needed, a consensus of ‘good enough to deliver the requirement’ was the most achievable and productive. If we eventually deemed that to be less than adequate, work needed to be done on the clarity of the output expectation right back at the beginning.

We may all want to find the time to ‘dot all the ‘I’s’ and ‘cross all the ‘T’s’, but such a level of detail changes little for the better in many cases. And in doing so, perhaps we are relating more to our own measure of a certain ‘perfection, rather the real world’s needs. Soothing our own ego and insecurities rather than being prepared to let others do their best for us in a collaboration, rather than a directive style which is so persistently demanding that it puts enormous strain on any leader.

And in that nugget of a training session came the realisation that, amongst other real benefits of letting go to your people by delegating to them, perhaps you, as their leader, might relax a little more; do less hands-on stuff and micro-management and eventually, spend more time developing your people.

All of which are, after all, far more valuable activities for any leader to perform, for everyone concerned.

Martin Haworth is an experienced UK-based coach and trainer with TNM Coaching, working worldwide with enlightened organisations who see the light in leadership and management development.