Leadership and perfectionism


A word that bursts our imagination in all life areas - business, private, leisure, recreational etc.
What is ‘perfection’? Why do we strive for it?

At the beginning of our Universe, the timeline back 13.7 billion years, the expansion begun from ‘Big Bang’. Some 380.000 years later huge clouds of hydrogen and helium atoms were formed but they had no structure. This sort of cosmic mush, as recent studies show, had some imperfection built in. Because of them we are able to measure just tiny differences in cosmic background temperature today. And tiny differences were enough for the Universe to move on to the next stage of building complexity. First, the stars were born …

Big Bang
It seems that it is the imperfection that generates complexity and change as David Christian describes in his TED talk: “And where you have slightly more complex things, you can get slightly more complex things. And in this way, complexity builds stage by stage”.

So, why do we seek perfection in imperfect surrounding?
There are studies on whether perfectionism is positive, negative, or both. For leadership process Leonard and Harvey defined perfectionism as “behavior linked to the process of setting very high standards or demanding goals of achievement for oneself or for others and evaluating performance based on those standards”. But then again research has shown that perfectionists are more apt to display negative emotional states and behaviors when pursuing perfection whereas others don’t.

In my opinion the search for perfection can trail to a chronic state of self-criticism and disappointment with (our self and others) performance. It is not productive. The quest should rather be focused on a high level of excellence with the feedback driving a positive change. Or, as Kim Collins put straight: “Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection”.

At the point of view on how our Universe was created I’d like to transmit it to our lives and argue that if everything in life is (becomes) perfect then there would be nothing to strive for. Or worse, we would not exist at all if Universe in its initial stage would be perfect.

If perfection is the only goal of a leader it may intimidate employees. They will learn fast that nothing is good enough and will play safe, stay “small”, invisible to avoid making mistakes. Or they may start to behave in a sense ‘why bother’ when no matter how much one puts in, there is always a level of failure in the outcome. Therefore, a great leader does not lead by asking perfection but rather through vision, passion and team building. She/he inspires others to accomplishments on the level of ‘the almost reached perfection’!

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