As kids, we often hear the phrase, “practice makes perfect,” from our parents and teachers. It’s almost as if we are failing to accomplish anything unless it’s done perfectly, without any mistakes or defects.

Yet … seeking to be perfect can be counterproductive. We want to be good at what we do. In fact, we want to be damn good, but if “good” is defined as errorless, one can expect to fail nearly all the time.

The Great Manager – Not the “Perfect” Manager

I’m often asked to share an example of a great manager, and during my description, the word “perfect” never crosses my mind.

Instead, you might hear me say something like this:

  • I enjoyed working for Margaret. What I liked about her was she made herself available when I had questions or doubts about my work. There was a time when I went to her several times per day for assistance, and each time, she helped me with the issue.”
  • Roberto is a terrific manager! To be sure, he has high expectations for all his team members. From him, I learned the value of informal coaching as a leadership skill. I remember a time when he felt my presentation lacked substance, and he approached me immediately with suggestions. He also made sure to congratulate me for good work.  The immediate recognition makes a huge difference. There’s no need to wait for the annual performance appraisal. Immediate feedback resonated with me and showed Roberto cared about my success.
  • When working as an IT Staff Analyst, Sara was a hands-off manager, but her presence was constantly felt. After 6 months or so on the job, she informed me it would be better to make certain presentations directly to the CIO. I was nervous about this expectation, but she noted she would mentor me during this transition. In fact, she volunteered to attend a few of the sessions until I gained confidence to do it on my own. After a few presentations, I was on my own! Sara wanted me to learn this important skill. In fact, my experience working with Sara prepared me for many future opportunities, as I became comfortable engaging with business leaders.

Making Mistakes

As you can see with the examples noted here, greatness has little to do with perfection. In fact, I would find it hard to work with someone who has a perfectionist approach to work. Given that I’m likely to make my share of the mistakes, the perfect manager would quickly consider me a failure.

It is also important to recognize how our own past mistakes make us better managers and leaders. When someone on our team is struggling with an aspect of work, we are more likely to understand how this person feels because we also experienced it.

This empathetic approach to leading people allows our human side to shine, and our employees appreciate this kindness.

Progress Matters

On the contrary, progress, rather than perfectionism, is an attainable goal. With training, experience, and confidence, we can continually improve our performance.

My takeaway is to stop pushing myself to be perfect at everything I do. Instead, I will adopt a relentless attitude and determination toward progress. 

At the end of every day, my goal is to be a better manager, leader, and person tomorrow. If I meet this goal, I know I’m heading in the right direction.