Perfection and Mastery: Leadership Through Continued Learning

Mastery, Perfection, Leadership“In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” ― Eric Hoffer

This quote reveals a wonderful paradigm about life, learning and the quest for perfection. What is perfect now, won’t be perfect for long if you want to remain competitive and relevant. Our world is ever changing and with that so is the state of perfection. Throughout history what was a perfect design, was overtaken with a newer, better idea. For example, in its day, the rotary phone was the perfect design, but it gave way to the cordless phone, which gave way to the cell phone, and now the smart phone. Each phone for its time seemed to solve all imaginable problems, but only for a fleeting moment.


Perfection as a short-term solution 

Thinking of perfection as a short-term solution actually allows for the continuation of honing and refining what you are relentlessly focusing on while releasing you from the burden of being flawless. It gives you room for greater learning and growth through mastery allowing you to adapt with the inevitable change that is, and always will be, happening around you. This is not to say, that because of change, you should not pay attention to details and deliver anything but an outstanding product. You certainly need to deliver to your customers either internal or external products and services that perform minimally as advertised and as expected or you will be out of a job or out of business.

Understanding perfection as a short-term goal allows you to let go of the obsessive behaviors synonymous with being a perfectionist, and move on. Many times, we become stuck because it’s not quite ideal, we know we can do better and “good enough” aren’t words we allow ourselves to utter. We take great pride in what we do and don’t want anything less than the absolute best to be a reflection of our performance. These thoughts drive us to work harder, longer and later into the evening seduced by this picture in our mind of what perfection is to us in this walled off world we enter as our focus tightens. As the days, weeks and months tick by the world is changing and what we think is perfect is on the way towards becoming inadequate or obsolete.

Consider what you could accomplish if you allowed your idea, product or process to be released for use earlier than you are perhaps comfortable with. What if you used the extra time you would have spent making this thing shine its brightest before its release to look back at the larger macro vision?  What if you spent this time innovating, improving, updating with new information? Wouldn’t this thing you produced be an even better reflection of you as you demonstrated your ability to adapt, remain current and competitive while executing in a way that clearly has the larger vision in mind? Maybe the tiniest, minute details you were previously obsessed with become less important in the big picture of obtaining the vision of your team, department or company.


Shifting from perfection to mastery

What is the value in being a perfectionist at something that’s obsolete? Perfection is a state of mind. Realizing that nothing is utopian can open you to a new way of thinking and living, which allows you to be your best, but with an emphasis on continual growth or mastery. The concept of mastery gives you freedom from measuring yourself against a specific idea of perfection and knowing when you have reached it, and instead allows you to be a beginner, focused on continual learning. (See my book review: Mastery, The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment.)

Mastery is not about being flawless and absolute, but rather a process and journey towards continual improvement by adapting to, and allowing for, change. To shift into this new modality takes effort and patience, because there is no quick fix and nothing is ever complete. The biggest keys to mastery are letting go of being complete; enjoying what is perfect in the moment, and enjoying the ever-changing journey.

Demonstrate stronger leadership skills by opening yourself to the idea that no matter what you have accomplished, what awards you have received or titles you’ve held, you should not get comfortable in having “arrived”. Successful leaders are open to being a beginner and continually stretching themselves by continuing to learn and change.

I encourage you to stretch yourself and adapt the concept of mastery over perfection and see what new opportunities open up to you in the process.

Derek Lauber & Sara Hawerlander

image courtesy: Will Scullin

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