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April 8th

Perfection Does Not Excuse Leadership Inaction

When I was a young girl my mother would tell my siblings and me, “Perfection is an excuse we use for not doing something.” She was so passionate about this phrase that my mother stomped her foot until it became ingrained into the fiber of our character. I still apply this belief in my adult life.

Not reaching the destination of perfection does not preclude you from seeking the journey toward leadership inactionperfection. At some point on that journey (before perfection) you complete your task. In an online post the author expands on overcoming the 6 mistakes of inaction. He said “Smart mistakes happen when you take action, fail, learn, and adapt and Dumb mistakes happen when you don’t try at all.”

I once had a colleague who wanted me to volunteer to manage a new and unstable work program. He said to me in front of our team, “You’re trying to be perfect and that’s why you won’t step up.” Boy was I furious because little did he know that the successes in my life did not come from me trying to be or wanting things to be “perfect”. In fact, my very career choices were in fields where “the unknown and chaos” prevailed in an environment where “perfection” could not coexist. I did not volunteer because I was not interested in the leadership position. Leadership Coaching and Consulting is beneficial for leaders who experience difficulties with taking on unknown work tasks.

While working in a supervisory position at a former employer, I volunteered to spearhead the task of securing two instructors for a three day Cultural Diversity for Law Enforcement Leadership Conference for first line supervisors to the most senior officer positions. I was instructed to include myself for at least a half day to a full day block of instruction. In the planning phase, I found myself trying to find the “perfect” and “best known” instructors and it turned out that I wasted a lot of time trying to perfect things. At the follow-up meeting, I recommended two instructors my superior was familiar with, but, unbeknownst to me, my boss had attended a seminar with these instructors and did not want their services for our department.

I did something that changed the history of the department’s cultural diversity training programs. Past diversity training had been conducted by minority presenters, but I stepped outside the box and hired a white male and a black male team to help me fulfill my task. Everyone on this training team had imperfections but expert talent and when staged together we became the perfect team to fulfill the department’s training needs. As a leader, who doesn’t want to fall victim to leadership inaction, I am cognizant of the value of time limits and don’t waste time trying to get things perfect. My philosophy is “done (with quality) is better than perfect.”

When researching the topic of characteristics of a good leader, you do not find “being perfect” listed as a trait. Functioning and working under the premise that desiring perfection is not a valid excuse for lack of leadership accomplishments, is beneficial no matter your leadership role and regardless of the situation(s) you are leading. In the article ‘Is there a perfect leadership style?’, Renee Harness states “there is no one ‘perfect’ leadership style”. Harness discusses how Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership provides a solid framework for leaders. Impactful Leadership consulting and training courses like the Leadership Challenge Program, help you perfect a leadership style that works best for you as individuals, your constituents and also for your organization.


Become a Better You
One of the most challenging accomplishments is to become a better you. Some of us can recall hearing “be your best” or “do your best” at some point in life. Parents, teachers, bosses, and even social media instill this in our belief systems. The caution here is to not equate best with perfection. When we do this we inevitably press the STOP button and get off of the self-perpetuating treadmill of believing we are not (good) enough.

Live a Healthy, Unattached Life of Peace
This does not mean we don’t have close and meaningful relationships with people or that we don’t care about others or ourselves. This pertains to how we no longer have to be afraid or will have fewer reservations in relations to not having what we want or need before taking the next step. Not striving for perfection allows us to isolate how we envision things to happen with what actually occurs. Instead of getting disappointed we make something positive happen.

Be Courageous
We fear less and become FEARLESS in situations when we don’t have all of the information and answers. We cease to struggle with the emotion attached to perfection. Yes, perfection is an emotion, as well as a goal we experience and attempt to achieve. The pursuit of excellence requires fearlessness and imperfection. Is anyone ever really 100% ready for everything?

These simple tools are highly effective in the process of leadership development. In order to be achieve your objectives as a leader, you must be able to move quickly forward in a productive manner. Take what fits you best and add it to your leadership skills to cultivate.

Read More on Leadership Inaction:

Author: Edye Washington
Senior Facilitator, Executive Coach
Xator’s Leadership Foundry
April 8, 2020