Perfectionism seems to be a thing that people enjoy claiming.
Others enjoy pointing out the futility of it and how it can provoke procrastination.
We’ve talked in the past about how if you’re going to do something, it’s worth putting in the effort to do it well. Today’s show smacks of a similar theme – of aiming high. Why not?
There’s a big difference in authority and leadership. And an equally big difference in leadership that takes high aim at an ideal versus leadership that accepts the status quo.
Conversations about “what could be?” often reveal how limited our thinking can be.
Sitting down with the boss of a 300 person company that manufactures aircraft parts, the discussion turns to his company’s culture, a culture he feels fairly good about. I ask, “How can it be better? What do you think you’d have to do to make it ideal?”
He’s thinking about it.
He’s obviously struggling to answer. I’m usually very comfortable with silence in a conversation, but it has a look I’ve seen before. A look that has shown me he may need further prompting to get the wheels moving more easily. I oblige.
“Surely there’s one thing that isn’t working so well. What is it?” I ask.
“I’m often frustrated at our lack of speed in handling certain people-performance issues,” he replies.
I ask him to explain. He goes on to share a few stories of people who weren’t corrected or supported in real-time. He wishes his leadership team wouldn’t sit on such actions. Some sit on them longer than others, but he confesses it’s a nagging problem that he’s not been able to fix to his liking.
“So what would the ideal look like?” I ask.
The wheels are turning. He’s explaining in vivid detail how things would look, sound, and feel.
Keep in mind, he’s in a very heavily regulated industry with lots of inspection and quality control. Anything having to do with airplanes has life and death potential. So getting it right is priority number 1. This CEO is very familiar with hitting the ideal in manufacturing. But like all of us, he’s susceptible to accepting less than the ideal in other areas – like these people problems he’s talking about.
For the next 40 minutes or so we discuss this ideal that he’s not yet been able to realize. He’s engaged and energized. Toward the end of our session he stops and says, “Man, that’s pretty fun to think about.” I have to tell him, “Imagine how much fun it’s going to be to execute.”
Have you ever planned something big? Maybe it was a move. Maybe it was a vacation. Maybe it was something with your career. Maybe it was a wedding. Something that took some time and planning.
Think about it. Remember how it felt while you were working toward it. Think about the things you did to get ready for it – to prepare for it to become reality.
The other day I was talking with an older gentleman who had retired from one career to begin a new one, his post-retirement career. Some call it “the encore.” He’s now 75. About 8 years ago he stepped away from the work he had done for decades. As he told me about the work he had put in to prepare himself for this new career you could see his eyes light up. Three years in the making. He studied. He read. He made notes. He talked with others who were doing this new line of work (new for him). His final 3 years in his old career were greatly enhanced because he was a man on a mission. To get his retirement career as right as he could.
“Was it fun?” I asked. “The planning and all the work you put in to prepare?”
“Oh, lands yes. I had a blast,” he said.
“I can’t remember when I had that much fun.”
Every time we plan something big we think about it going as well as it can go. The couple planning to get married don’t plan their wedding to be mediocre. They anticipate everything going perfectly. They want it to be extraordinary. They have an expectation that is very high. Rightly so.
Jim is a home builder. Well, more accurately he’ll tell you he’s really in the land business. He has a great knack for buying land at a good price, then developing it. He’s a master at buying low and selling high because he creates subdivisions and builds houses on land that enhances how money he can make. Sadly, he’s not terribly interested in being a great home builder. The homes are just a means to an end – a way to sell the land for more money than he otherwise could.
The houses are perfectly fine, but the workmanship isn’t terrific. Jim doesn’t mind though because it’s a detail that he simply doesn’t care about. In fact, he has very little to do with the construction part of his own enterprise. I look at his business and wonder what it might be like if he took more pride in the home building. I’ve often wondered, “What if he aimed for a higher outcome in craftsmanship in the homes like he does in his land deals?”
I doubt we’ll ever find out because he’s printing money and making more money than he’s likely ever made in his life. I have no working relationship with him, but privately (now publicly) I’m fascinated to wonder about what could be in his business – including profits. And I sometimes wonder if Jim might have some fun in trying to become world-class in building custom homes instead of just trying to hit price points and other measurements that help him add more exotic cars to his fleet.
Through the years I’ve found it interesting how business people who earn extraordinary incomes share stories of striving for something important. Their enthusiasm is apparent as they recite stories of taking a high aim. They can get animated whenever they’re telling me about something they were going to try to achieve that hadn’t been done before – at least, by them. Looking forward to reaching the goal is sometimes its own reward.
Recently, my wife and I went on a pretty rigorous 4-mile hike. We’d done it before and this time we felt we were better prepared. It took us about 90 minutes. The terrain in places was challenging for novice hikers like us. Check that, old novice hikers. At places we were both winded.
Along the route, trees were marked with yellow paint or yellow arrows to show you the path. Every half mile there was a marker.
Before we started we anticipated that it might take us 2 hours. The first time we did it I think it was closer to 3.
We didn’t have a time goal. We just wanted to do it for the sake of doing it.
All along the way we anticipated the next marker.
I remember hitting that first mile marker and saying to my wife, “Twenty-five percent down.”
Anticipating getting to the end alive was my ideal outcome!
After an hour and a half we emerged. Finished the course. No twisted ankles. No broken bones. No bruised egos. Just two old bodies looking to sit down and guzzle a Route 44 Sonic soft drink!
My wife said, “It feeels good to have done it.”
Truth is. It felt pretty good planning to do it again. And it felt pretty good all along the way knowing we were going to do it and in a much shorter time than we’d done it the first time.
Carly Simon sang that famous hit song, “Anticipation.”
The first lines of the song say…
We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway
When it comes to our organizations and our leadership, let’s think about the ideal outcomes anyway. Even if you may be tempted to think it’s never going to happen. What if you’re wrong? What if it’s possible? What if much, much higher performance is possible? What if you’re the impediment because you just won’t dream big enough? Or anticipate the desired outcome as being ideal?
What if you’re missing out on loads of fun? The fun to plan – and try to achieve some new outcome? The very best outcome?
What if Jim took aim at maximizing his real estate value by taking his home building skills to a whole new level? What if his company was a premier custom home builder known for a fit and finish that others simply couldn’t rival?
How good can you be?
How good can your organization be?
It’s fun to ask. It’s even more fun to plan the ideal answer.
Be well. Do good. Grow great!
P.S. If you are the owner of a small t0 medium-sized business, l invite you to check out The Peer Advantage by Bula Network. It’s a small think tank just for owners who aspire to be the very best.