Is The Quest For Perfection Ruining Your Organization?

Is the quest for perfection ruining your organization?

By Lisa Earle McLeod

If you’re a big wig at work – you know, like a University President, or a crew chief at Taco Bell, or the chairperson of the Save the Calico Cat Foundation – you might assume it’s your job to make things run perfectly. After all, setting standards of excellence is one of the hallmarks of success, right? Well, kind of. The formula for good leadership is actually pretty simple, whether you’re trying to run Procter & Gamble or the PTA. Good leaders set clear expectations, hold their team accountable, and make sure everyone has the tools they need to get the job done. It’s easier said than done of course but, after 20 years as a business consultant, I can promise you that it works. However, after being inside hundreds of organizations and coaching countless executives, I’ve noticed something more. There’s a subtle yet distinct emotional difference between the good organizations and the great ones. In good organizations people know WHAT to do; but in great organizations they’re also excited about WHY. The WHAT of management is about aligning people against measurable outcomes and, much like a home where mom monitors the kids’ chore chart on the fridge, if it’s done consistently, you’ll get pretty good results. It beats working for an unpredictable psycho jerk. But at the end of the day, how many times can you make the toilet sparkle, or turn out a zero-defect product, before you start just going through the motions? At a certain point, we need to know that our work actually matters. That’s why great leaders – the kind people are willing to follow to the ends of the earth – go beyond the WHAT and help their people understand the WHY. They tap into the deep desire that we all have to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Outcomes like increased sales lower costs. And no dirty glasses on the coffee table are the WHAT of performance. But the impact you have on others is the WHY and great leadership is about connecting the WHAT with the WHY. It’s about igniting the feelings behind the facts and it’s a concept that applies to any job or organization, from families to Ford Motor Company. And you don’t even have to be the boss to do it. Every job has its touch point. Be it the customer whose life you make easier; the student who learns the secrets of DNA; or the co-worker who gets to go home on time simply because you did your part, when you know your work matters to someone, you’re more inclined to do it well. Trying to get other people to adhere to your version of perfection never works over the long haul. They may play along – especially if you’re the one signing their paycheck or doling out their allowance – but, unless they possess some unique internal drive, they’re not going to go much beyond checking off the tasks you’ve assigned. It doesn’t matter whether you’re trying to make billions of dollars in profits or simply get your kids to pick up their shoes without nagging, endlessly harping on the performance standards will never get you any better than “meets expectations”. However, if you can serve up your expectations in the context of how the task impacts others, you’ll be amazed at how hard people are willing to work. Forget perfect, make it personal, and watch your people soar.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a syndicated columnist, author, keynote speaker and business consultant who specializes in helping individuals and organizations create happiness and success. Her latest book is Finding Grace When You Can’t Even Find Clean Underwear – For more info – <>

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© Copyright 2008, by Lisa Earle McLeod. All rights reserved.

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