The problems and perils of perfection

Jim Blasingame

There are a million – maybe a billion – scenarios for how someone becomes the Founder of a business. But regardless of variability, there is one part of every venture that, almost by definition, will not vary: In the beginning, and often for some time afterward, the Founder will be the first to do all the jobs.

If you’re one of those Founders, you were the first receptionist, the first salesperson, the first accountant, and the first janitor. But you didn’t become a business owner to answer the phone, pay the bills or sweep the floor. You did those jobs because, at that moment, you were the smallest of business entities. An entrepreneurial quark. A team of one.

You have every right to look back on those days with great pride. Starting a business from scratch and growing it into a success story is a modern-day Herculean feat, accomplished against all odds. But there is one perilous byproduct of the Founder being the first to do all the jobs – they were all done perfectly.

So, how could perfect be a problem? It isn’t if you’re always going to do those jobs yourself. Since you saw every task through your eyes, the process you used, as well as the results achieved, became the benchmark for how those tasks should forever be done.

That’s right. Since you were the only judge of your work, in your eyes it was perfect. I call that “Founder’s Perfection,” or FP for short. Unfortunately, as a business grows, FP can morph into a problematic management paradigm: Failure to delegate, or FTD for short. Here’s what it sounds like when a Founder has FTD:

“Never mind. I’ll just do it myself,” while thinking, “that way I know it’ll get done right.”

Or this one: “Just forget it. I don’t have time to show you.”

And one more: “I know how this customer likes it, so I’d better do it.”

Beyond your own grasp, there’s no such thing as business perfection. So why expect it in others? Well, it’s quite likely you won’t realize you are until FTD prevents your business from achieving its growth goals. The good news is there is a cure for FTD: You have to convert from a Founder expecting perfection into a Delegating CEO seeking excellence. The bad news is, abandoning perfection doesn’t come easy for most Founders.

Your business can’t grow until you become a delegator, and you can’t delegate until you stop chasing the illusion of business perfection. This will be on the test: As long as FP is causing FTD, the Founder will be a 100% extension of the business. But once you forego perfection in favor of excellence, delegation, and therefore business progress is possible.

Beyond your ability to make the shift from perfection to excellence, successful delegating begins with the hiring process. You can’t delegate to and expect excellence from people who aren’t capable of being excellent. So, hire the right people, train them to do the work, show them what excellence – not perfection – looks like, and allow them to flourish.

Yes, your people will sometimes fall short of excellence in spite of their best efforts. That’s when you employ the Delegating CEO’s most powerful leadership tool – redemption. Help that person regain excellence by asking what I call the Quest for Excellence Question, “What did we learn?”

Write this on a rock ... Business perfection is an expensive illusion. Business excellence is not only real, it’s the performance level you and your team should be seeking.

Jim Blasingame is the author of The 3rd Ingredient, the Journey of Analog Ethics into the World of Digital Fear and Greed.

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