Laurie David (An Inconvenient Truth) has a saying, “perfection is the enemy of good.”
She’s right. If you hold yourself up to a standard of perfection, you’ll fail and give up every time. Sometimes, especially when you are trying to do the right thing, you need to give yourself a break. If you are trying to be green, don’t let one slip up (you buy non-organic food) keep you from being a rabid-recycler at work. It, like many things, is not all-or-nothing.
The same goes when it comes to trying to help people you work with. You may not be able to solve all of their problems from compensation to safety, but that doesn’t make you a bad person.
In place of the perfection standard, I suggest you explore thoughtfulness as a standard to hold yourself to. Think through your actions. Think of all the opportunities to make a difference. Think of how others will react to your decision. Think about the impact of your actions three or five years down the line. If you are thoughtful, you have done your best to add value and minimize risk.
This replaces our ready-fire-aim approach. Many times we are thoughtless in a rush to seize an opportunity or rush towards a big hariy audacious goal. This results in blunders, missteps and unforseen results. To adopt thoughtfulness as the new standard for business life, you will actually move closer to perfection — because you are thinking through the actions, reactions and long term consequences.
One last thought: Try a little empathy with your thoughtfulness. As you think through a decision or an action, think through the feelings other people might have as a result of it. Is the customer going to be surprised? Confused? Angry? Are your partners going to feel empowered? Isolated? You’ll be surprised how their feelings, once you think about them, will help you decide what to do.
But don’t hold yourself to perfection. You’ll give up, declare yourself a failure and quit. And we need you.