Expecting Perfection is an Imperfect Strategy

I have a tendency to judge others against a perfect version of themselves. I assume people are capable of perfection, and I expect to find everyone virtuously sprinting towards perfection.

Expecting perfection from direct reports can be a good habit for a manager. A boss with perfection as a standard can replace a culture of mediocrity and complacency with a culture of excellence and urgency. A high standards environment can lead to productive competition between team members, which can ultimately lead to real performance breakthroughs that exceed even the high expectations of the boss. For example I’ve been surprised over and over again by the resiliency and perseverance of my team members, who have worked through the worst retail environment in three generations.

Expecting perfection is also sometimes a terrible habit for a manager. No one is perfect, no one is capable of perfection, and many people are not consumed with perfection as goal. Direct reports can ultimately feel despondent working for a perfectionist, like no level of effort or achievement will ever be good enough. The workday can turn into a waking nightmare for employees causing them to run away in panic from their monster of a boss. Too much urgency can lead to a counter-productive environment of stress, pressure, and attrition.

A manager who expects perfection is sometimes rewarded by achievement and fulfillment in knowing he challenged his team members to become better versions of themselves. But when a manager forgets he is a leader of people he will routinely be disappointed in what he finds in others, and be even more disappointed in himself for pushing his people away. It’s a balancing act, and, hey, even managers are not perfect.