The Problem with our Pursuit for Perfection and the Life-Changing Practice of Good Enough’


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    Entries in leadership development (3)


    Learning and Development

    L&D: does it stand for learning and development or long and drawn-out.

    Is it time for L&D to be more responsive, to lead the way in agility, experiments and lean solutions?

    I was speaking with an L&D team about running my ‘ish' workshop for the organisation - where people learn to challenge perfectionist tendencies and work until it's 'good enough', working in increments and iterations. The L&D team said, "Actually, WE need that!"

    Often an organisation’s learning program is embedded in an annual calendar; by the time the dates come around there’s other/better/more responsive things out there, the market has shifted, and the skills need has shifted. Does your organisation still work on an annual calendar? (Sure, a calendar works for availability, logistics and managing budget).

    Is it time to get more agility into L&D? How responsive is something that’s planned a year or more out? How does a team or project and the skills and capabilities they need change in that time?

    Could L&D run on shorter 90-day cycles for example, responding to the needs in the business and what’s happening in the market, offering stuff swiftly to build skills now, not in 365 days time?


    That New Year 'stink' of perfectionism and expectations

    If you’re reflecting and resetting goals with a new year upon you and then reading all those posts about needing to make things measurable and achievable and to do this and that, please… hang on a moment. It’s being reported more frequently in those 'new year/new you' types of articles and stories that many of us don’t quite hit or stick with the resolutions as we’d like to. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t attempt a reset or a new way of thinking, living or working. 

    But can you smell it? Lots of things stink of perfectionism and expectations at this time of year. 

    Perfectionism isn’t a one size fits all; there are different types of perfectionism, but the one that I see running rampant at this time of year with resolutions and drives for new habits and resetting on our hopes and dreams, is what’s known as ‘socially prescribed perfectionism’. 

    Hey, don’t get me wrong. I want to change my life too; get fitter, eat better, live better, etc. We can all have aspirations and goals and the start of a new year is a great time to do that. 

    But my point is, perfectionism is poison. I’ve been researching it over the past year or so as I’ve been writing the book ‘ish: The Problem with our Pursuit for Perfection and the Life-Changing Practice of Good Enough’.

    The book tackles the problems we face when we chase the elusive ‘perfect’ - whether we’re preparing a report or presentation at work, making something or working on any of our projects in life, including ourself. Excellence, quality and continuous improvement are important. But the pursuit of perfection …not so much.

    Our drive to make things (including ourselves) look, feel or seem perfect is dangerously on the rise and has dire consequences for how we feel about ourselves and how well we live, work and collaborate with others.

    New year’s resolutions included. 

    Perfectionism is on the rise

    So back to this socially prescribed perfectionism; it’s when we (usually, wrongly) believe or perceive that ‘other people’ hold high standards for us… and we will indeed struggle to achieve them. Who are these other people, anyway? And none of us can achieve perfection because it doesn’t exist!

    You see, of all the types of perfectionism, this is the one that's on the rise. Up 33% over the years between 1989 - 2016 when 41,000-ish people were studied. We are increasingly believing that others set or hold high standards and expectations for us that we need to achieve… or else. 

    The other types of perfectionism - where we hold high standards for ourselves (up 10%), and where we have high standards for others (up 16%) - are also both on the rise, but only at half the rate or less of this one, the socially prescribed perfectionism. 

    The research associated with the increases in perfectionism reveal that yes, the environment is more competitive. The environment we see and experience on social media, the job and career environment, the mainstream media, our local community, at school or university, at the beach, on the sports arena, on the road, in the air and at the holiday destination. It’s all more competitive. 

    Coupled with this, expectations are more unrealistic. Someone showing you their super-fit body, their multi-million dollar startup or their make-up free selfie sets an expectation that we too can achieve that if we’d only do the program, use the product or like and share the post. 


    Beware The Curse of Discernment

    Just remember that the Curse of Discernment is at play here too. This is the idea, the reality, the science - from Barry Schwartz’s ’The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less' - that as we have ‘contact with items of high quality’, we begin to suffer the ‘curse of discernment’. Lower quality things that used to be acceptable to us are no longer good enough. The base point keeps rising and ‘expectations and aspirations rise with it.’ Higher experiences are met with higher expectations and we want higher experiences which drive higher expectations. It’s an endless loop. Unless…

    Unless you be aware of it. 


    You ain't broken

    Just take every Instagram post, social media share and mainstream media article encouraging you to ‘live bolder’ and ‘be better’ and ‘change this’ or ‘become that’ with a splash of reality and science. 

    We’re being conned that we need to 'be better' or ‘get more' or to fix our broken selves. And it’s just not true. We are wonderful as we are; imperfectly human, changing, growing and living. 

    There are many other movements underway that are showing us how we can snap out of this push for more/better/perfect and go for things like slower living, detoxing, tidying, minimising, simplifying, switching off from technology and reconnecting with humans … and other trends and ways of living and working. There’s an awakening going on. Are you on to it or are you still on the drug of more, better, perfect at all costs? 

    There are many problems of going for perfect; we’d do better to care less and be a bit more ‘ish’ – ish means somewhat, more or less, to some extent - because it's a w-a-y more flexible, helpful and happier way to think and work.

    ish. Near enough is so often good enough on the things that don’t matter as much as we think they do. I think we need to care less about more, and care more about less. Across the board, in so many aspects of life. (Ok if you’re a surgeon, an engineer, a pilot, or manufacture anything, please continue to adhere to your increasing standards of quality.)

    But if you’re going to make this the year of anything, make it the year of ish; where you ease the pressure off yourself - and others - and stop buying in to the perceived pressure for perfect anything. Relax the expectations of how things have to be or what they need to look like, feel like and when it needs to be done by. Live a life more ish-ly. 

    Reference: Psychologists Paul Hewitt and Gordon Flett’s - The ‘Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale’ and research by Thomas Curran and Andrew Hill.



    Why bother doing better...

    When you’ve cursed or waved your fist at a fellow road user -- pedestrian, cyclist, driver, truckie -- for doing something crazy on the road, just remember that we can’t allbe above average drivers. Some of us are highly proficient and skilled, confident and capable. Others of us are less so … and we’ve all done something at some time that wasn’t the best decision while on the road.

    The same applies to drivers at work: leaders running meetings and workshops. We might, possibly, perhaps, maybe think we’re pretty great when it comes to leading meetings, getting outcomes with a team and keeping people engaged throughout the process! 

    Many a leader I’ve observed, coached or developed in facilitation skills -- the skills leaders use to bring their team together, remove obstacles and get good work done -- believe they’re pretty hot, highly capable and in short, "nailin’ it".

    But we can’t all be above average facilitators. 

    It could be that we haven't recently gained perspective on how we’re going or perhaps we may not have adjusted our style to incorporate some of the newer approaches to working with people that help bring them together and get work done. 

    Or we might be comparing ourselves to those we work with and okay, so fair enough, in comparison with that sample, we may well be hot! But outside of your organisation’s culture of meetings and workshops, you may be resorting to habitual patterns of behaviour that could be impacting how you’re performing... and the results you're getting in meetings and workshops.


    A New View

    Time and again in my workshops on facilitation skills I see how delighted people are to learn new skills, capabilities and techniques in how to handle what happens in meetings, team sessions and workshops. They are thrilled in fact! Their confidence lifts. They have new ways of working with people that are contemporary, yet caring; new ways that are creative yet productive.

    We don’t know what we don’t know when it comes to many aspects of leadership, collaboration, motivation, performance… you can put facilitation on that list too.

    The role of the workplace leader continues to evolve.

    Increasingly leaders are needing workplace group leadership skills across three main areas: 

    1. to create the right environment or culture for collaboration
    2. to elicit information from the team and
    3. to build cohesion - to help bring a team together and to help them stick. (And... taking them out for drinks doesn’t count!)

    So it makes sense for leaders to continue to look at how to build these types of capabilities, to build their social intelligence and to get better leverage for the time they spend working with their direct reports. 


    Why bother doing better? 

    If you’re on your own journey of going from good to great as a leader -- no matter your role, field, industry or organisation -- think about why you would step-up in your capabilities and performance.

    In each of my workshops on facilitation skills or 'Leader as Facilitator' program, I ask participants why they want to do better or why they want to improve their facilitation capability with their team in their organisation.

    Gathering up all of those replies to ‘why’ over recent years, the responses seem to focus on four main areas (and you'll see some direct quotes from the sessions): 


    The ME

    (me, myself, I - this is about them, the leader)

    Their responses include improving their facilitation capability to: 

    • Build confidence 
    • Learn! Always be learning
    • Confirm if I am on the right track with what I’m doing now
    • Be more persuasive. One participant recently said: "Perhaps I’m a little bit direct; how can I be more persuasive, impactful, engaging – all at once?". Aaaah yes, a magical trio there, but it can be done. 
    •  Understand what to do when I don’t know what to do
    •  Break old habits and routines
    •  Improve my communication skills
    •  Become a better leader (Yes! Nice one that.)



    The WE

    (them, they, us - this is about the participants, their direct reports, team members, stakeholders, the people they work with)

    They said they wanted to improve their capabilities to facilitate as a leader to: 

    • Influence stakeholders and learn more ways to influence people
    • Handle tricky situations and strong personalities in the room (urgh, don’t you just break out in a sweat at the thought of the next one of those you have to lead!)
    • Manage up; to be able to lead leaders
    • Get people on board a change program or a new or changed project
    •  Engage people to increase their commitment to follow through on actions 
    •  Keep people motivated
    •  Manage differing outcomes and expectations


    The WORK

    (it, that, the work - this is about the work to be done)

    Participants said they wanted to improve their abilities to facilitate in meetings and workshops to: 

    • Get to a decision - as one leader said, "It's fine to all talk and contribute but where is it eventually going? Do we need to get somewhere and get agreement? If so, then I have to make that happen without being a steamroller".
    • Give a name to things we may do instinctively as leaders; "I'd like to be more conscious of deliberately doing something because then I’ll know what to do to get what outcomes."
    • Conduct more effective meetings (oh so common this one - such a h-u-g-e time waster when it doesn't go well)
    • Achieve outcomes in a group or team environment. "The more people there are, the messier it can get, but we still need to do stuff", said a leader recently. 
    • Keep a group of people on track and get the work done. (It's an ongoing and fine balancing act, hey?) 


    The WAY

    (how we do the work - this is about how we work together, the culture of the meeting or workshop, how we perform as a group)

    Participants said how they work would be boosted with better facilitation skills to: 

    • Add to the toolkit of strategies and tactics we know about when working in a group situation
    • Move away from click and point PowerPoint presentations; "It’s not a presentation - it’s a workshop, dude", was feedback from a leader’s direct report at a design thinking workshop recently. Ouch! But it was feedback that jolted that leader and helped them shift their thinking and then go ahead and build their facilitation capability
    • Techniques to get beyond group ‘niceties’. "You know, we’re all being nice and getting along and perhaps being compliant in our decision making so we don’t rock the boat, rather than feeling like you can have robust discussion and diverse participation."
    • Get different views from around the room
    • Harvest ideas and get deeper information from all of the team or unit or from smaller groups or areas of the business who might not normally participate in these sessions
    • Run better meetings; "we spend so much time in them and we simply don’t do them well enough”. 


    There are so many ways an enhanced capability to facilitate in your team will benefit you and the team, the work that gets done and the way you all do the work. 

    And while it's just one capability - facilitation - it has so many facets, perspectives, skills, techniques, ways of thinking and depth to it. It's a practice.

    What’s most needed where you are at the moment? 

    Watch what happens over the next few days and weeks -- where do you think a better, stronger capability to facilitate (to make things easier for the team) would be beneficial?