2013 October – Excellence is bad for business

I know that this may fly in the face of the common wisdom that “good is the enemy of great” but years of experience have shown me that striving for excellence can mean the death of innovation.Or as author Jake Breeden, in his book Tipping Sacred Cows, puts it: “Excellence not only kills ideas, it kills energy.”When you demand excellence you remove the opportunity for your employees to be messy, to play with ideas, and ultimately, to innovate.

It’s true—the unending pursuit of excellence is bad for business.

Take, for example, when IT people are asked to be excellent at documentation.

My experience in leading IT folks has been that they will gladly give their everything if you are asking them to do what they love and what they are good at (i.e. something other than documentation). They’ll excel at learning, analyzing, installing new systems, and repairing them under fire.  But ask them to bring the same level of passion to creating documentation and, well, it never gets done.

You might was well ask a fighter pilot to drive a bus.

And if you harp on it, morale goes down and eventually your team disappears.

The fault here isn’t that the IT people hate writing documentation, it’s that leaders fail to prioritize. When you demand that your employees be excellent at everything—instead of recognizing and making the most of their natural talents—you’ve stopped making tough choices.

When you demand that your staff never bring you a problem without a solution, you are eliminating even the possibility of them delivering something extraordinary.

Breeden says: “When excellence is defined as living in a world of no surprises, you aren’t going to get any…until it’s too late.”

Life is messy; work is messy.

As a leader you must have the discipline to self-examine, to focus on yourself when you look for excellence, rather than always demanding it of others.

But giving others the space to learn, grow and innovate when you’ve got deadlines and quotas is hard to do. If you want to be able to make that space you’ve got to take a hard look at your leadership skills, and how you’re going to go from being the leader you are now to the one you truly want to be.

Are you ready to move from wanting to be a better leader to being a better leader?   Contact me today.

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