“Excellence does not require perfection.” – Henry James
One common trait I see in the great leaders I work with is the desire to do things better. Whether it’s how they produce their good or service, whether it’s marketing, whether it’s something internal or people related, they’re always looking to improve. It’s just a regular part of the culture of their organizations.
Unfortunately, even great leaders can fall into the trap of “perfect improvement”. Putting together a team of people to figure out a way to improve a process or a segment of your business is great. They can meet a few times, talk about how to get better, sketch out an outline of a plan, all that stuff that sounds like progress.
At some point, though, you actually have to implement something. Too many leaders are afraid to implement something unless they’re absolutely certain it’s going to perfectly accomplish exactly what they want. The solution in question has to be perfectly designed, the leader has to believe it will be perfectly executed, and the external circumstances (customers, economy, whatever) have to be perfectly aligned. Otherwise we can’t do it because there’s a chance we’ll fail.
All improvement is, by definition, change. And all change could potentially fail. If you are unwilling to risk failure, you will never improve anything. Ever. Not in your business, not in your career, not in your personal life, not anywhere.
If we’re going to make change, and we’re going to improve, and we’re going to seek to be excellent, we have to acknowledge and be OK with the idea that it might not be perfect. In fact, it almost certainly won’t be perfect. That doesn’t mean it won’t be an improvement, and it doesn’t mean it won’t be excellent.
Think about something in your organization that needs to improve. Why haven’t you done anything to improve that thing? If you’re completely honest with yourself, part of it is probably that you’ve been trying to find the perfect solution to implement at the perfect moment, and you haven’t found it. And you probably will never find it.
Stop looking. Figure out a way to take a step towards excellence, and then take it. There’s a chance you might fail. There’s a chance that after you take that step, you may have to take another, and then another. That’s OK. That’s how the pursuit of excellence works.
There are no shortcuts. There is just a path that has to be walked. Take the first step and start changing.