#TBT Mickey’s Rule #3: Don’t Let Perfect Be The Enemy of Good

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Rule #3: Don’t Let Perfect Be The Enemy of Good

One of the hardest things a leader had to do sometimes is hold back enthusiastic employees or teammates who are so focused on perfection, they keep working on a project well past when they should’ve stopped.  Sometimes “good enough” really is good enough.


On one hand, you want employees to work hard and strive for perfection, but on the other hand there’s usually more than one task to accomplish.  On the other hand, sometimes you really do have to be perfect.  So what’s the right balance?

The key here is to look at time the same as any other resource.  Like all resources, time is valuable because it is not unlimited.  In for-profit,  non-profit, and governmental organizations alike time has a very definite cost that is quantifiable.  Unfortunately, not every leader (or employee) thinks of time as a cost vs benefit transaction.  Put another way, leaders should always be asking themselves: “what’s the return on my investment?”

Suppose a particular task takes an employee 40 hours to get the desired product  but it’s not perfect (say it’s 90% of what we wanted), and it will take another 40 hours to make the product perfect.  Is 90% good enough?

Maybe.  What will it cost if my product is not perfect?  Is it as perfect as my customer needs it to be, but not quite up to what I wasn’t it to be?  Then maybe the extra 40 hours of time spent (100% more time) isn’t worth the 10% improvement.

Maybe not.  If I have a demanding customer, or the 10% imperfection is noticeable and will affect my reputation, or if 100% is necessary for life/safety/health then the cost-benefit analysis demands I keep working until it’s perfect, then those extra 40 hours are not only worth it, they’re necessary.

In addition to managing time as a resource, the leader needs to manage employee morale as well.  Morale, like time, is finite and like time can be spent.  Unlike time, morale can be replenished.  A wise leader knows when to require perfection and when to let “good enough” really be good enough.  Avoid making changes to an employee’s work because of personal preference (don’t change “happy” to “glad”).  Don’t require more work than is necessary to get the job done right, and don’t sweat the small things.  Employees will appreciate the freedom, and will usually respond when they’re asked for perfection if it’s only demanded when it matters.

Leaders should only demand perfection when it’s necessary.  To do otherwise could mean wasting time and employee morale.

“Ask General Leadership”

Posted Leave a commentPosted in GeneralLeadership.com


We’re starting a new feature over at GeneralLeadership.com called Ask General Leadership and I’m honored to be one of the first contributors! Here’s the first question:

“I will be joining a team that is already formed and will be their Director. It is a team of 15 that is operating off site at a large client’s place of business. Where I have a question is that from everything I’m seeing, the client is difficult to please, and the staff that I’m taking over is less than professional. The VP that I interviewed with noted that they need a strong leader to shape up the current staff or to remake the staff. That would take a very strong personality. He also stated that the person they are looking for needs to be a little submissive when dealing with the client. I think I have the qualities to be that type of a chameleon, but it seems like a very difficult task. What reading and/or advice would you recommend for me so that I can make my first 90 days a resounding success, and thereby keeping the momentum into the future?”

Want to know what me and the rest of the General Leadership team answered? Check it out here.

Staying On Course to Your Goals

Posted 2 CommentsPosted in Technique Only

Set your goals then get moving!Each new year the resolutions fly…we promise to lose weight, eat better, work harder, read more, you name it. Now that we’re at the end of January, it’s time to take stock of our goals and re-commit to them.

Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once spoke about the snooze button, and how it was really superfluous. “When that alarm goes off, get up! You made the decision to get up at that time when you set the alarm, don’t re-make that decision.” That advice is the same for goal setting, and commitment to achieving them. You made the decision to strive for a goal when you set it, don’t second guess yourself before you get there.

The common joke about the empty gym in December being full in January then empty again by February is funny because it’s true. People really do run out of steam during the “dark ages” in winter. It’s difficult for busy people to remain committed to goals when so many things are working against them psychologically and practically: short days, cold weather, busy work, school, family commitments, etc. So do we just surrender to the winter and wait again until next year? No way!

That’s not what leaders do.

Leaders re-commit themselves to their goals, and don’t let temporary failures become permanent habits. It’s not easy to overcome the inertia we build up that prevents us from achieving our goals, but it’s worth the effort to push through. I recommend a three step process for getting back on, or staying on, track to achieving the goals I’ve set for myself:

1. Write It Down.

Putting something in writing, even if it’s just on an index card. Wherever you write the goal, it has to be visible and something you see often. It’s much harder to blow off a goal if it’s always “right there.” I write my goals on an index card and keep them in the journal I use every day to take notes at meetings. That ensures I see it daily and remember I made the decision to achieve it when I wrote it down in the first place. By the way, the same is true for organizations: once you set a goal, put it on the wall for all to see.

2. Take Stock Regularly.

Once the goal is on the index card (or the wall!), take stock regularly on your progress. Be honest with yourself on how you’re doing, and then recommit yourself to the goal. If you’re doing well, be proud of yourself and your team, celebrate a little and keep moving toward the goal.  If you’re off track, don’t lose heart! Just remember why you set the goal in the first place and re-commit to getting to the finish line. If you made a New Year Resolution, don’t get down…you still have 11 months to go!

3. Make A Plan & Stick to  It

Commitment is important to achieving goals, but you can’t be “all thrust and no vector.” Energy will only carry you and your team so far if you don’t have a plan. Not having a plan is probably the biggest reason people don’t reach their goals. Just like being on the wrong trail won’t get you to Maunawili Falls no matter how long you hike, expending all your energy on something that doesn’t help you reach your goals will ensure you don’t achieve what you set out to achieve. Don’t give up, just make a plan then execute it one step at a time!

Just like setting that alarm clock, you made the decision to reach a goal when you set it. Don’t let the winter blues get you off track from being the person you want to become!

Leaders Supply the Perspective

Posted Leave a commentPosted in GeneralLeadership.com


My latest over at General Leadership:

Hiking in Hawaii is one of the joys of living here. There are hundreds of miles of trails leading to natural beauty unique to the Islands of Aloha, but despite the fact we’re on an island, it’s surprisingly easy to get lost. Whoever is leading the hike has to know where they’re going, and maintain perspective during the journey. It’s an excellent metaphor for leadership because leadership, especially at senior levels, is all about maintaining perspective.

Read the rest on GeneralLeadership.com

Proud to Join General Leadership!

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Leadership Advice from America's Most Trusted Leaders!

I’m very excited to announce I’m joining the team of leadership experts over at GeneralLeadership.com! Mahalo nui loa to Brigadier General John Michel, Senior Curator and author of Mediocre Me, for this tremendous opportunity, and Matthew Fritz (also an author) for helping me get started.

I’ll still be writing here, but will also be contributing to the conversation with America’s Most Trusted Leaders.  Watch this space, and I’ll announce my contributions once they’re posted.

How Do You Handle Failure?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

Lead people for any length of time and you’re bound to fail.

I know there’s a lot of Type A’s out there who are convinced they never fail, but I assure you, if you’ve been leading for more than 5 minutes you have failed! So all you high achievers, you who’ve been number one at everything since you were a fetus, this post is especially for you.

Early in my military career I learned the secret to surviving failure, even an epic one, could be summed up simply.  As is often the case, the secret to keeping yourself out of the psych ward after a failure is expressed in a cute little acronym: FIDO.  FIDO stands for Forget It And Drive On, and is a reminder not to be paralyzed by fear or embarrassment.  For most people failure will be a setback at best and a debilitating event at worst.  FIDO is the way successful people overcome their failures and roadblocks to find their way in life.

Olympian Ruben Gonzalez 1Lt Clebe McClary, USMCFIDO is hero Marine 1Lt Clebe McClary’s personal motto.  After he was grievously wounded in Vietnam, McClary decided he had to “drive on” and not let his injuries define him.  I was privileged to hear Lieutenant McClary speak when I was a young officer and it made a big impression on me.  My friend and 4-time Olympian Ruben Gonzalez started training for his first Olympics at age 21, the age many Olympic athletes retire. Not taking “no” for an answer, Ruben made the Argentine Olympic team, achieved an international “Top 50” ranking, and competed in four Olympic Games.  Motivational speaker Jennifer Webb has even written a book about FIDO.For high achievers or “high drive” leaders, sometimes even the fear of failure is enough to induce strange and out-of-character behavior.

The difference between a man who fails 10,000 times before succeeding and a man who fails once and is a wreck for the rest of his life is perspective and balance.  You see, “FIDO” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about failure; FIDO means you learn from your mistakes and put on your big boy pants then get on with the mission.  It means keeping your head up when things go wrong.  A “FIDO person” may never achieve what he originally intended because of a failure, but a FIDO person will find new goals to achieve and move out in that direction.

Not everyone takes failure so well.  I’ve seen leaders fail and refuse help from others believing they were “done.”  I’ve watched leaders refuse to take stock and evaluate their own performance, instead deflecting blame for their failures on others.  There are even those I’ve worked with over the years who are so paralyzed by the idea of making a career-ending mistake they become unable to make any decision at all.  Worse still is the “Type A” who is on the rise through the ranks who become an impediment to getting work done through an almost manic need to control everything.

The reality is failure is common and a part of the atmosphere of leadership. Any leader worth their salt has to be able to “take a metaphorical punch,” learn, and then “drive on.”  Both the fear of failure and wallowing in that failure are counter-productive.  Leaders are human with the same emotions and self-doubt every other human possesses.  The difference between high achievers and the rest of us mortals is how they deal with failure.

The lesson is this: don’t let failure or the fear of it define who you are. No matter what happens take stock, learn, then FIDO.