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.


Straight Lines and Big Pictures

Straight lines are hard to make unless you have a ruler . . .

Hmmm . . . you’re one step ahead of me here, right?!?

From an organizational standpoint, if you want things to fall into a perfectly straight, pre-determined line, it is probably going to take a ruler/dictator/boss manager/hard-line supervisor to make it happen. The problem is, in my experience, those kind of supervisory approaches kill morale and create a culture that squashes enthusiasm, creativity, innovation and anything that deviates from the pre-determined path . . . even if that deviation may be exactly what the organization needs to succeed.

That’s not to say that you don’t need goals, a clear end game, and a few hard and fast rules and expectations . . . but you can do all those things without employing a ruler. When you use a ruler to make a straight line, the focus tends to be on just that — making straight lines, rather than keeping an eye on how the big picture is developing. Sometimes life happens, and the big picture needs to change. Such adaptations may seem like a distraction to someone whose sole focus is getting from point A to point B . . . and as a result they may, with great precision, straight line your organization right into the ground.

For example, improving performance in a dying market is not going to save your organization . . . even if you hit your targets this quarter. In other cases, the time and energy required to have a perfectly straight line (i.e. 100% compliance) may detract from a task that, in the long run, may have a far greater impact on overall success. That’s not to say compliance isn’t important, but if 90% gives you a “excellent” rating, is there a better return on investment to have your staff focus their energy on that illusive 10%, or is their time better spent on other tasks that help you reach your big picture goals? As pointed out in a recent blog by Dixie Gillaspie, excellence and perfection are not the same thing.

Excellence is a result of focusing on the big picture, and being flexible enough to set the ruler aside and respond with curved lines, or occasionally even a squiggle or two if it contributes to the overall goal. Is this method less precise? Yep. Is it perfect? Rarely. Is it the best way to accomplish a big hairy audacious goal? Without a doubt!

Maybe it’s time to give up the straight lines, and the rulers that produce them, and instead focus on the big picture, squiggles and all.