Whether you’re a well-seasoned manager or have just been elevated to a position of leadership, congratulations! You’ve received a wonderful, magical, exciting, sometimes terrifying gift—an opportunity to craft and drive the way a team works, grows, learns and achieves together. In my personal experience throughout a winding career, there has never been a more fulfilling responsibility. And I’m going to tell you something that will probably be wildly unpopular—but hear me out.
Of course, you want to build the best, smartest, highest-performing team that you can! You want to lead your team to that picturesque mountain top of perfection. But mentally, that is wrong. You’ve got it backward. Stay with me.
Let’s unpack the mentality behind perfection for a minute. To idealize perfection, we have to think in terms of, “What went right?” and, “What went wrong?” Understanding what’s wrong means we’re looking for where to place the blame. Blame leads to guilt or shame, which leads to collusion or victimization.
When examining from a lens of perfection, we’re looking to take credit for a job well done, without digging deeper to see what could have been even better. On the flipside, we’re looking to project those negative human emotions onto other team members or deny responsibility for them ourselves. You see, the quest for perfection drives control. Do you want to be the person who people are terrified to screw up around? Are you trying to be that top-down micromanaging boss that everyone talks about by the water cooler? No? Didn’t think so.
Now that we understand the pitfalls from idealizing perfection... so then what? My friends, the answer is in discovery. Discovery is so powerful both within and outside the leadership space, but especially in building high-powered teams.
Hey, people are going to screw up. We all know this, we’re all human—you might even repeat this mantra all the time. But statistically speaking, most of us leaders still expect perfection, the opposite of what it means to be human. We’re not always going to speak in eloquent prose on the fly with that one client when they put us on the spot with a complex question. We’re not always going to be on our A-game, but one thing we can always do is discover.
The quest for perfection drives control.
Instead of breaking down mistakes, downfalls and failures into, “What went right?” and, “What went wrong?” there’s a much better way to understand what happened, gain knowledge and grow forward. And it’s so much easier than you might think. It all comes down to changing the conversation to an open discussion with your team of, “What’s working? What isn’t working?” These types of inquiries as opposed to pointed questions don’t look for where to put the blame, but they lead to responsibility, commitment, collaboration and learning. How freaking magical is that?
When things go right, awesome! Start standardizing what works for everyone. Acknowledge those successes and share them with your team. When things go wrong, that’s ok too—it just means it’s time to try something different. Approaching the issue from “What can we do differently?” means no blame game, no finger pointing, just progress.
There’s the next step though—because you’re responsible as the leader. Accepting the answers, staying open and letting other people feel safe to express themselves respectfully without fear of judgment or repercussion is the only way to really foster collaboration in that conversation. Getting the team to that level will take time, repeated established trust and openness on your part. Letting the team air their thoughts, ideas, concerns and fears to someone who will absorb them and help guide the conversation forward without dictating it on their behalf, is the leader they will need. It requires self-awareness on your part in every step. Can you be that person? You totally can. We all can.
At Designzillas, we constantly talk about practicing courage. Being a great leader takes courage, as does being a great team member. Courage is strength in the face of what scares you, and it’s so much harder to practice than to preach. We need the courage to take risks as a result of discovery, to express that we messed up or that we don’t know the answer to something right now, just as much as it takes to receive that information. It is, however, a key component to fostering an environment that is safe to create, collaborate, to dig deep and discover. Regardless of how you found yourself in the magical—and sometimes scary—position of leadership, I encourage you to forget about perfection and embrace discovery! We believe in you.
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