Imperfection and vigilance
What does perfection mean to you? Is it a piece or artwork or sculpture which moves you with its exquisite beauty? Maybe it’s a moment or place in time where everything perfectly aligned, and which now lives permanently in our memory? Perhaps it’s a meal you’ve cooked or task you’ve performed where it’s the absolute best it could be and you’ve received praise and plaudits as a result.
It seems that the word perfect is easily bandied about and the value of it has been diluted. I was recently reading the report of a football match and one manager was described their midfielder’s performance as ‘sheer perfection’. What struck me was, perfection is subjective. I’m sure the opposition wouldn’t have liked to describe it as the perfect performance… though to be fair they’d been beaten 6-1! The reality is that no person (Jesus aside) and no thing is perfect. There is fallibility, failures and errors (to name just a few) in everything…
As leaders, the question is, if we can’t have perfection, what can we have?
This month we’re continuing to explore The Motive, by Patrick Lencioni. As we move towards the end of our study, our focus is shifting to recognising our conflicted leadership motivations.
As has been highlighted, no one or no thing is perfect. This is equally true in respect of our motivations for leadership. Whilst we may have dominant Responsibility-Centred or Reward-Centred leadership traits, we are not entirely one or the other. Even the most Responsibility-Centred leaders can succumb to the rewards on offer, whilst Reward-Centred leaders are capable of sometimes putting the greater good before their own. This is the nature of humanity and imperfection. We simply cannot maintain the same levels and standards all the time. We change, develop, decline, get better or worse and are influenced by 101 different things. Two days are never the same and things (major) such as family illness, damaged relationships, or personal wellbeing, or (minor) hunger or tiredness can alter our feelings, engagement and mood, and therefore our decision-making processes and outcomes. The journey towards perfection (in this case Responsibility-Centred Leadership) must be undertaken with an understanding that we will always be striving for it and there will always be something we need to be working on. As a result, we need to ensure we are aware of, and guard against the influences and challenges that have the potential to curtail our effectiveness or success.
So how do we do this? Firstly, we need to guard ourselves against complacency and allowing our natural tendencies to compare ourselves with others – whether this be ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’ or allowing the arrogance that comes with thinking we’re better suited or more capable than anyone else, and therefore ‘no-one can do it as well as me’. If we don’t, we may find ourselves waking up one morning to find that we’ve taken to avoiding situations and responsibilities that seem thankless.
Secondly, we need to create an environment where honesty and openness are key. Human nature means we tend to sugar-coat or down-play people’s attitudes or behaviours. We do this to protect others, or ourselves from their reactions/responses. For every piece of constructive feedback we get, we also get plenty of unwarranted complements. When this happens, it’s difficult, even for the humblest leader to avoid getting an incorrect or somewhat warped sense of self-image. It is for this reason, it’s vital for leaders to surround themselves with honesty.
The third thing that Leaders need to do is create accountability within their work. This may be a mentor or respected/trusted advisor who has permission (as leaders we need to give people permission to speak into our situations – this means vulnerability and accountability and their willingness to be forthright and honest) to call us out on our failings and weaknesses. Alternatively, it may be a small cohort of peers who support each other through a round-robin type support network. This person may be older or younger (despite the rumours not all wisdom is wasted on the young!), but ultimately will have your best interests at heart. Alongside having someone to hold you accountable, it may be that you offer to hold someone else in the same way. This is really helpful as it will continue to sharpen your own practices and thinking as well as provide opportunities for reflection.
Hopefully there is nothing new for you in this months blog! I’m not suggesting that the past 5 minutes you’ve spent reading has been a waste of time, but rather a good reminder both of why you do what you do, and the need to be constantly mindful and aware of what is happening in your leadership.
Finally, can I encourage you, if you don’t already have one, to find someone who you are happy to meet with (whether remotely or eventually in person) to talk through your leadership and who would consider working alongside you to look at the areas that need growing?