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Pursuit of Perfection: The Game That Can’t Be Won

Some people are obsessed with perfection. Recently, a Board of Directors asked that we conduct a 360 Evaluation of the Chief Executive Officer of their organization. When asked if there were any specific performance concerns, the response was “Not really, we think that Mary Beth is an exceptional leader, organizes well, thinks strategically, and has the full confidence and support of the Board. We just have some concerns that we’re not doing all we can to help her develop, and a 360 will help us identify areas that are deficient.”

“Like What?” I asked. The Chairman of the Board replied with “Well, she doesn’t have the level of ‘presence’ we’d like to see, especially around major clients and other Board Members. We don’t think it’s really costing us anything at this point; but we owe it to her to help her grow and mature in the role. We want her to be a total person.”

So, we conducted a 360 Evaluation. We had 18 people involved in the evaluation, including the CEO. When finished, the aggregate scores on the competencies measured, including executive presence, which came in with a score of 4.8 on a scale of 5.0. That’s up there. The variation between how the evaluators ranked her and how she ranked herself never had been more than a 25 basis point variance, which is also rare.

The Board, while pleased, still wanted to press the issue on executive presence. In short, they were concerned that as good as their CEO is, she just isn’t perfect. “What else can we do to help her become perfect? We owe it to her to improve her future opportunities.” 

Having coached the CEO for a few years, I replied “Well, you can leave her alone. She’s given you three successive years of increasing profits – the best you’ve ever had. She’s developing a strong bench. And, the organization is probably going to be named one of the top 100 companies in your industry. It seems to me you’re picking pepper grains out of the mashed potatoes. Let’s keep coaching her on how to keep leveraging the skills she has; and let’s coach the Board members who are concerned that she’s a little too formal and stiff on how to recognize greatness when it’s in their midst.” 

One of the great challenges of development and training is that people want to spend money on what isn’t there instead of enriching what is. The relentless pursuit of perfection is playing a fool’s game and hoping to win.  

As a business owner, you may or may not have a Board. But you may have a succession strategy or expectation based on perfect performance by a daughter, son, or non-family member executive. So, if I were coaching you and you asked me to help your family member become perfect, I would ask you a couple of questions: How important is perfection to you? What price in terms of satisfaction and life balance are you going to extract from others to do and be what you cannot do and be yourself?


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Des Moines, IA, USA
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