On The Importance Of Leader Imperfection

Leadership is a messy business… at least when it’s being done right.

It requires making bold decisions, often while relying on ambiguous, shifting, or contradictory information. Sometimes you have to get it wrong, a lot, before you can get it right. Just ask any leader in Silicon Valley, where having had some spectacular failures is how you get your business creds.

To be sure, results reign supreme, and amassing a track record of stellar results will determine one’s legacy as a leader. High standards matter. But leaders shouldn’t be judged against a standard of perfection — because it’s a willingness to be imperfect that fuels a leader’s ability to experiment, innovate, and evolve. Unless a leader has the courage to try new things, where perfect outcomes are not guaranteed, she will never grow.

When it comes to leadership, imperfection is more important than perfection.

Let’s face it, some tasks demand a rigor of perfection. If you’re a bridge-builder, air traffic controller, or brain surgeon, you are expected to do your job right every time. No exceptions. But it’s the task that’s expected to be perfect, not the person doing the task. It doesn’t matter if you’re socially awkward, a subpar communicator, or if you dress in secondhand vintage clothing. No one cares that you aren’t a perfect human being.

Perfectionists have few rivals in their ability to annoy and repel others. Conversely, imperfections and idiosyncrasies are often the most endearing human qualities. Doing some critical tasks perfectly makes perfect sense. Being a perfect human being does not.

Here are a few tips for embracing your leadership imperfection.

Review Your Imperfect History: Think back on all the risks you’ve taken, and mistakes you’ve made, during the course of your career. Which ones are you most proud of? How did the mistakes you made help you become the person you are today? What does that tell you about the value of making mistakes?

Let Go: What tasks are you holding on to because you’re convinced that others won’t do them as well as you do? Perfectionists make great micromanagers. But micromanagers don’t make great leaders. Let go of tasks that others deserve the chance of doing.

Bust Up Your Routines: Perfectionists are habitualists, preferring tried and true over new and improved. Leaders, conversely, are expected to bring about positive change. Purposely disrupt your habits and break up your routines. Try a different route to work, order something new off the menu, and let someone else lead the meeting. You get the idea.

Reward Smart Mistakes: Value imperfection in the people you lead. When they make non-habitual mistakes, especially mistakes that key the business on to a new business insight, always high-five the mistake-maker.

Keep in mind that perfectionism doesn’t just inhibit a leader’s ability to take risks; it inhibits her ability to enjoy it as well. Nobody’s perfect, not even the perfectionist! So if you’re a person who can’t be fully satisfied until things are perfect, you’ll be perpetually dissatisfied. Perfectionism, then, is a joyless experience. Knowing that, imperfection is a way more attractive leadership proposition!


Photo Credit: Joel Montes

Leaders Open Doors

Bill Treasurer

About Bill Treasurer

Bill Treasurer is a bestselling author, leadership consultant, and creator of Q Cards. He is the founder of Giant Leap Consulting, a courage-building company, and the author of the international bestseller, Courage Goes to Work. His workshops have been taught to thousands of executives in eleven countries on five continents. For more than two decades, Bill has designed and delivered programs for emerging and experienced leaders from such organizations as NASA, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lenovo, eBay, UBS Bank, Spanx, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to founding Giant Leap Consulting, Bill served as an executive in Accenture’s change management and human performance practice, eventually becoming the $35 billion company’s first full-time internal executive coach.

What People Are Saying

Leave a Comment