As a Leader, Do You Encourage Excellence or Perfection?

As a Leader, Do You Encourage Excellence or Perfection?

As a leader or business owner do you value perfection or excellence? How does that play out when interacting with your clients or employees? That’s what today’s post is all about.


Last week, while flipping through radio stations in the car (yes, I still listen to the car radio) I came across a song that instantly reminded me of my senior year of high school. Specifically, a winter color guard competition.

For those not familiar, the color guard twirls flags or rifles (not real ones) and dances around adding color to the marching band. My high school also had a winter color guard. We twirled and danced inside, to recorded music, no band.

Getting the Right People in Place

I’ll never forget that 1991 season. We had the right people in place. Top notch, experienced and award-winning instructors – Bill, George and Michael – who lead us with a perfect blend of kick-butt, creativity and kindness. After almost 30 years I still remember them for their drive and passion.

We also had a top notch, committed group of 12 young women. Some had color guard experience and others did not. The commonality? A passion for music, dance and flags that sparkle. That year we performed to Games People Play by the Alan Parsons Project. (It’s a catchy tune. Listen here or watch the video below.)

Our troupe name? Westwood Winter Guard Legacy.

Incomplete Routines

The problem? Though my high school had an outdoor marching band for years, the indoor color guard was new. As a result, we got a late start to the competition season. So, on the day of our first competition, we only knew half of our routine.

Twelve of us, all in agreement, begged our instructors to withdraw. What’s the point of performing if you don’t have a complete performance? We felt embarrassed and couldn’t bear the thought of standing still for almost two minutes while the song played until the end.

We moaned, groaned and grumbled. But our instructors weren’t giving up or giving in. In fact, they insisted we perform what we knew to the best of our ability and stand at attention, with our heads held high, for the rest. Stay poised, they told us.

Ugh. How humiliating to a teenager.

Finally, our time came to compete. We walked out onto the gymnasium floor, performed our best and stood still for the rest. Those final two minutes felt like an hour.

After our performance we went back to the bleachers, watched the other troupes in our division perform completed routines for the judges, and waited for the competition results. We certainly didn’t expect a trophy that day.

Perfection is a Myth

Then as we sat, heads in our hands, still feeling defeated about our performance, we heard the most beautiful words, “In second place… Westwood Winter Guard Legacy!”

Hey, that’s us! We jumped up, screaming, hugging, crying and a little bit in shock that we placed second with a half-completed routine.

That win fueled our determination to complete the routine. We worked tirelessly to make that happen. Week after week Mike, Bill and George modified the routine (often making it more advanced), changed the flags (to make them more colorful), and told us to hold our heads higher. None of it was perfect and our flags weren’t always in sync, but we were always excellent.

And by the end of the season, Westwood Winter Guard Legacy took home the first place trophy at the championship competition.

Leadership Matters

All thanks to our instructors – Mike, George and Bill – who believed in us and pushed us to perform even though we wanted to hide. Instructors who pushed us to be excellent, not perfect. Leaders who saw something in us that we could not see in ourselves. They knew that if we didn’t show up that first day with a half complete routine, we would have remained invisible for the rest of the season.

Instead, we worked through the discomfort, continued to grow and became a stronger, more successful team.

All too often, leaders want complete ideas from their team. Employees think their ideas must be fully formed before sharing them (this came up in at a recent client workshop). Coaches expect too much of their clients in one session. We give up on ourselves before we even get started.

The Bottom Line

Perfection is a myth that stalls creativity, collaboration, problem solving and action.

As a leader – you, me, we – have the opportunity to say, “Share what you have, even if it’s not fully formed. Let’s see what we can create together.”

Believe in your team, your clients, their incomplete ideas or baby steps. See something in them that they can’t see in themselves. Push them to start somewhere and build upon it. Encourage excellence over perfection and let that drive performance, commitment, collaboration and engagement.

And then tell me:

Which team do you want to lead?

What legacy do you wish to leave?

What are your fondest high school memories?

Your Voice Matters. Keep Shining.

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Insights for leaders who are tired of formal protocols stifling their personality and ideas.

Here we get at the heart of what it means to "be yourself" in any business setting.

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