I used to often say, “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well.” I got this saying from my mother who said it about matters like cleaning rooms and getting good grades when I was growing up. Like much that our mothers say, the words formed themselves into a life philosophy.
It is a philosophy that has led me to work hard and to strive for excellence in whatever I do. I’m grateful for the fruits of this in my life.
However, these words and the philosophy that grew from it have also hampered me. You see, most leaders have a tendency toward perfectionism. We want everything to be just right—before we act, as we act, and after the action is complete. Some of us won’t engage until all the factors are right, until everything is in place down to the smallest detail.
The problem is that this can lead to paralysis. Seldom is reality going to align with the perfect and ideal condition I envision in my mind. Rarely are all factors going to be just right. To wait for the perfect is often to sacrifice the necessary. To wait for the perfect is often to surrender the strategic.
Now, I carry a humorous version of my mother’s sentence in my mind: “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” Don’t misunderstand. I never set myself to do a worthy thing badly. Yet this reworked sentence helps me remember that imperfection is part of everything in this life and that to wait for imperfection to yield to perfection is to never act at all.
An example: I’m crazy about my wife, Bev. I have loved her for years and love no other woman but her. She’s imperfect. If I had waited until I found some movie-suggested ideal of the perfect woman, I might never have married Bev. Instead, I imperfectly married my imperfect wife and gave my imperfect self to her. Now, we are imperfectly, gloriously happy. Visions of the perfect might have prevented it all.
I have business plans underway right now that aren’t perfect. I can envision perfect. I even strive for perfect. But remembering that “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly,” I’ve launch several plans that are achieving good things but that are far from the ideal that I envision as yet. Still, they were worth the launch and worth not waiting until the perfect arrived.
I’ll tell you frankly that perfectionism—needing to have everything perfect before taking a step—is the fruit of pride. Usually, a perfectionist sees themselves as perfect and is waiting for the world to get in line. Pride says all should be as ideal as I am. Pride says I don’t move until conditions are as I require. Pride says I deserve only the best and refuse to engage until the best rises to meet me.
Here’s my suggestion. Humble up. Get real. Take a good look at the world. Good things happen through imperfect people and in imperfect ways. Realize that the perfect is the enemy of the good, if we insist on the one before the other. Then, act when the time is right and not just when the perfect has arrived. It never will—in business, at least.
That’s it. Grieve with me for Notre Dame but have a good weekend.
I’ll be live on Facebook on Wednesday at 12:15pm EST to discuss the election results. Tune in for “The Election is over. Now What?” at http://www.facebook.com/MansfieldWrites