Ball and Chain

OK, one last Super Bowl thing (I promise). Much has been written and blabbed about the heavy weight of history on the backs of the wildly talented and incredibly successful Patriots. You don’t go 18-1 without doing a lot of things right.

It’s possible that the whole perfection thing, and its impact on the Patriots in the Super Bowl, has been over-rated. But it does match my experience working with highly successful people in the business and non-profit worlds. In fact, one of the common themes discussed by highly talented professionals when they describe leaders of choice is both a demand for the best possible and a patience with the imperfection that comes from learning. Leave either behind at your peril if you want to attract and retain the best people.

When perfection is the standard, people tend to lose joy in what they’re doing as they ratchet up the pressure to be flawless. Pursuing one’s best, excellence, is only a slight change in perspective from perfectionism, but you can see in the eyes and hear in the voice of those who do so a much looser, optimistic approach.

At the risk of going against the “if you don’t win it all, you’re a loser” grain, I found myself gaping when everyone joined the chorus of “18-1 means nothing if you don’t win the Super Bowl.” I get the general idea – the Patriots set out to win the championship, not all the games up until the big game. But to say it means nothing? Come on!

Ask any player on any of the average teams who failed to make the playoffs if they’d swap places with the Patriots – to taste excellence, if not perfection. I’d guess you’d have to quickly get out of the way of the blitz of players who would run across that line if offered the chance.

My parents used to say “perfection is the enemy of excellence.” I think they were right (again!).