Perfection vs excellence

Perfection vs excellence mixed with neurodiversity

I recently worked with Peter who is responsible for managing union activists within a teacher’s union. Peter had been a successful teacher who had left the classroom due to frustration with government policy that got in the way of his passion for teaching. He then moved into the union supporting teachers to be the absolute best they can be in their job. Peter has a dyslexic diagnosis, and this impacts his ability to process information along with his short-term memory. I should emphasise that he is extremely competent at his job and exercises a high level of emotional intelligence especially when dealing with union members, but he has struggled with perfection vs excellence in his role.

Recently Peter has undergone changes at work as his union has been taken over by a larger union, which has meant a complete change in infrastructure and IT with many new systems being introduced along with additional processes. I should mention at this point Peter has a well-rounded education including a master’s degree in organisational management, he is a well thought of and highly trained individual working in a frontline role because he wants to make a direct difference to teachers. Peter always wants to do the absolute best job he can, often at the expense of personal time and well-being.

Working with Peter through a series of coaching sessions we were able to explore the difference between excellence and perfection and why it is vital to understand it. I must emphasise here, I’m not suggesting Peter should be doing shoddy work that is unfit for purpose, the issue was that the work he was producing was so far above and beyond what was required. It meant other clients were not getting what they needed (nor was he).

Excellence vs perfection

Excellence is about doing the right things, in the best way possible and doing them well enough to meet what is required. It also means accepting that there is always room for improvement and ironically that perfection should be your goal. You also need to have a reality check that you are highly unlikely to get there, but if you keep aiming in that direction your current working processes will just get better and better. This is a growth mindset, it’s about building on yesterday, recognising what could have been done better and doing it. In addition to that, it is also about being kind to yourself.

It is a journey of wonder and surprise

Perfection is the definitive 100% right way to do something and is completely unobtainable and if you do try and obtain it you will use a disproportionate amount of energy and gain a diminishing return for what you are doing, often causing anxiety stress and disappointment. This can further manifest in depression, procrastination and ultimately poor performance within individuals and teams.

It is a destination with no seats

For Peter, much of this was to do with the changes that were taking place in his role and responsibilities and how he felt he needed to be able to continue to deliver one hundred per cent, even though all these changes were happening. A breakthrough moment happened when we talked about the concepts of working in your job and working on your job, as for excellence to take place your processes and working practices need to be a well-oiled machine. This means taking time to understand them and innovate to meet the needs of your organisation, but more importantly to meet your own needs to achieve your objectives. For Peter, this was a breakthrough moment that enabled him to look at his job in a different way. He recognised although he wasn’t the most senior person in the organisation he was the most senior person who had control over what he did because he was able to manage himself. Once Peter started to take this point of view, excellence became the only option. He couldn’t have perfection in a changing, innovating workplace because by its very nature improvement involves failure and learning.

This was a life-changing moment for Peter and something he has been able to use as he has moved to a role with more responsibility since completing his coaching. If this is something that is of interest to you, please get in contact.