Leadership Mistakes: The Paralysis of Perfection

Mar 22, 2021 2 min read
Leadership Mistakes: The Paralysis of Perfection

The paralysis of perfection is everywhere. Learn how to tackle the perfectionist and inaction. Find out what it takes to make real progress.

The paralysis of perfection is everywhere. So writes Dan Rockwell responding to a comment made on the Leadership Freak blog. But what is paralysis of perfection? And how should you deal with it?

Some people have such a complete vision, they never achieve it. Moreover, they often spend too much energy stopping others from achieving their goals. This is frustrating! Successful change needs momentum. Lazy leaders want to see results.

An incomplete solution that allows forward movement is better than no solution and no movement. – Dan Rockwell

Dan suggests we tackle the paralysis of perfection and do the following.

  1. Persistently say complex problems have more than one solution. This opens the door to simply choosing one solution and moving forward. There are no perfect solutions.
  2. An incomplete solution that allows forward movement is better than no solution and no movement.
  3. Evaluate often. Does the path we've chosen help us to move toward the desired destination? Many people like to complain that we haven’t arrived. Ask them, “Is some movement better than none?” Ask them if they have a better alternative.
  4. Celebrate progress. Perfectionists love to point out that the progress isn’t enough. Ignore them and honour people who are making progress.

This is great advice. Most businesses face uncertainty and change and need to innovate. Big visions and complex strategies don’t move the organization forward. Actions do!

How to Deal with a Paralysis of Perfection

Let strategy emerge. Have vision, yes. But don’t cripple that vision through detailed strategies and excessive planning. The lazy leader doesn't waste time on unnecessary things and gets straight to the point of what the organization is aiming to accomplish.

Those who have a “why” to live, can bear with almost any “how.” – Viktor Frankl

Successful change needs momentum—or a sense of urgency—plus short-term wins. And good progress propels people forward to work harder and make the vision reality. Remember, your vision lays out a destination, the destination guides your strategy, and strategy leads to action.

So, focus on the big picture, not minutiae. Communicate the plan, set priorities and put in place supporting frameworks to deliver results quickly. Re-evaluate often. Understand what works and what does not work. Don’t be fearful of a wrong turn, since no solution is perfect. If you’re on a journey, you’ve got to be moving.

And take time to celebrate success! Recognize or reward each contribution. People will see change working and the business moving forward: no more paralysis.

Next time you meet a perfectionist, ask them where they want to go. Then tell them you can help them get there.


What would you do? Are your goals thwarted by excessive analysis and planning? How do you handle perfectionists? You are welcome to share your experiences in the comments.

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