Pieces of Perfection

Christmas Tree

I have a collection of porcelain Christmas ornaments that I have had for a number of years. They were all gifts that highlighted important moments in my life. Each year, I would carefully place them on our tree, making sure they were secure on the branch. And then one year, one of them fell, bouncing from branch to branch in a seemingly slow motion journey to the floor. After the initial pain of seeing something I held dear in pieces on the floor, I had a decision to make. Throw away the broken ornament and maybe look for a replacement, or try to glue the figurine back together as best I could, knowing it would never be the same?

As I pulled the scarred ornament out of its box this year, and positioned it on the tree so the unrepairable hole in the back was less obvious, I recognized that while it was less perfect than the other ornaments in the collection, it never fails to make me smile. As leaders, in our quest to have everything run perfectly, we can lose sight of the fact that sometimes the most imperfect part of our work can actually have the most meaning. That is where our effort can have the biggest impact.

Maybe your challenge isn’t gluing together broken pieces. It could be deciding whether to replace a fading ornament with something new, or taking a big risk to totally turn the tree upside down without knowing for sure how it will turn out. Too often, we unnecessarily set ourselves up to fail by making perfection the goal . . . in all things . . . at all times. Perhaps the best way to find fulfillment as a leader is to instead look for pieces of perfection . . . which may, in fact, be quite different than what you originally envisioned. It could be

. . . Improvising with Plan B when Plan A fell apart, and having it surpass all expectations

. . .Thinking you could never replace a key player who walked away, only to have an even better fit step to the table.

. . . Falling short on the original goals of a project, but making a connection that led to even bigger opportunities.

Pieces of perfection come into view when we let go of some preordained picture of what success is supposed to look like. Not to lower the bar on the impact you are trying to have, simply to recognize that there may be any number of ways to get there.

My Christmas tree is filled with mismatched ornaments, tarnished ones, and aging grade school creations that make my sons cringe . . . all hanging along side shiny new additions, and of course my porcelain figurines. I’m certain a designer would not call it a perfect tree. I’m equally sure that it is filled with meaning . . . and pieces of perfection.


How Will They Know?

Christmas Tree and Gifts. Over black background

Have you ever noticed that moments of insight, or reminders, often come in the most unexpected of ways?

Last weekend my boys were home from college, so they had the opportunity to help out a bit as I started decorating for Christmas. I am, perhaps, a bit enthusiastic about this task. As my oldest son finished setting up the third tree he commented, “That’s the last one, right?” “Almost, there is one more little one for the porch.” To which my son replied, “Mom (insert eye roll here) . . . they will know we are Christians by our love, not by the number of Christmas trees we have . . .”

We both chuckled at his comment, but it echoed in my head all weekend. How often, as leaders, do we get so caught up in what we are doing . . . the meetings, the projects, the initiatives, the never-ending to-do lists . . . that it seems to overshadow the why? Sure we often need all those things to accomplish the why, but if we are not careful, over time, we can focus so much on the details of the new endeavor, overcoming the identified foe, reaching projections, that we forget why we were doing all of that in the first place. Is it to grow by X%, to capture more market share, to bolster our own ego?

I hope not. I hope that you started on the leadership odyssey because you believed in something . . . something that tugged on you in such a way that you could not sit on the sidelines . . .that you saw important work and knew you had the gifts and graces to move it forward. And I hope that mission still drives you, because that is what will keep you going among all the minutia that is required along the way. Sure, we all occasionally get consumed by the “stuff” of leadership, but when that happens I challenge you to ask yourself, “How will they know?”

How will your people know your “why”, the mission that compels you, and hopefully your entire organization, forward? Will they know it through your words and actions, or are they left to draw their own conclusions? Do you talk frequently and openly about the underlying purpose of why you are doing what you are doing? When your people see you keeping the “why” front and center, they will be encouraged to do the same. Not only that, but leading off discussions with the why also opens up possibilities that might not be considered if people are only focused on a task, rather than a larger mission.

Meeting performance indicators doesn’t tell people your “why” any more than a fourth tree does. If you are going to accomplish great things you, and your people, have to be clear on the why. So the question remains . . . how will they know?