Purpose over Perfection


As we reviewed in the last leadership post, many early leaders and even entrenched leaders struggle to transition from performance to leadership. But we can spot a good idea when presented with one and most will accept the fact that we need to get out of the office and build influence if we're ever going to succeed at this whole organizational change business. This is about the time we are blindsided with terrible results despite following through on all that soft, squishy advice, which of course reinforces our original beliefs that we need to control the world from our ivory tower office in order to get things done.

Why does this happen?

Early leaders are frequently promoted because we are so productive. We are efficiency maniacs. It's all about tasks, quantity, and accuracy.

Leadership Fail: The Better, Quicker Mission Statement

When I was promoted into a leadership position, our entire senior leadership had turned over, leaving some pretty early leaders in charge of the hen house. We turned to the vision and mission statements for direction only to find that they were 30 years old and were pretty terrible to begin with. I believe our original missions statement was around 43 words with nearly half being adjectives.

As I mentioned, early leaders are excited people and we do spot good ideas. I was gung-ho about developing the best mission statement on the planet and immediately researched best practices. When we finally tackled the beast at an executive retreat, I was so relieved that we were taking this critical step forward.

I logically understood that the mission statement can and should be a powerful tool for creating unity, guiding critical strategic decisions, and acting as a rudder for the organization. I genuinely accepted that buy-in to the new mission statement was as or more critical than the words chosen.

So how did I behave in the retreat? Like a micro-manager.

I had already spent weeks researching and honing the perfect mission statement. It was beautiful, concise, and memorable. Then all my peers had to start sticking their crazy opinions in there, mucking up the water. Luckily our retreat facilitator was inclusive and had managed a few over-eager red personalities in his time.

Leaders must tame their overriding need for perfection in exchange for the greater purpose. 

The perfect mission statement, developed by mission experts (I'm sure they must exist), will never be internalized as well as the cruddy version with seven commas created by the people who carry out your mission.

One of those extra adjectives was suggested by Jim from accounting and he takes ownership of the mission with pride.

Another word was revised slightly by Alice from customer service who has the statement pinned up in her cubicle and can recite it from memory.

Perfect will always be less effective in producing change than the flawed version created by the people who must act on that change.

There's a time and a place for well-researched accuracy. Unfortunately for most leaders, those opportunities to design perfect products are few and far between once you're in charge. Successful leadership is measured by positive teams, positive customers, and positive balance sheets, not the sometimes ugly methods or vehicles that lead to those outcomes.

How could you better appropriate your efforts to produce better leadership outcomes rather than solo perfection?