The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “Why is it important to embrace imperfection in professional development?” is written by Carol Leaman, CEO of Axonify.
As the saying goes, “Nobody is perfect.” We often hear this, but then quickly forget the meaning as we set high standards and expectations for the people we work with is often said, but then quickly forgotten.
No matter where we rank at the company we work for, each one of us could always do a better job at something: meet deadlines, know our products better, be more organized … the list is endless.
Imperfection is part of what makes life interesting, and I’d argue, what makes a company successful. By making mistakes, we learn what doesn’t work. This provides us an opportunity to change course and correct whatever problems we run into. Imperfection causes us to think, and thinking is never a bad thing.
Too many leaders, however, equate imperfection with “shortcomings.” I’ll never forget scanning a performance review that one of my co-workers was giving to a direct report. He actually had a section in the review titled “Your Top 3 Shortcomings.” What a horrible way to think about someone’s performance, and what a great way to drive a potentially good employee out of the business.
In today’s world where employees move around frequently, and the cost of turnover is incredibly high, the most evolved leaders need to approach imperfections from the perspective of ways to support their people, provide them opportunities for growth and learning, and get the most out of them for the time you have them.
To be clear, there are two groups of imperfections in my book: those that speak to the core values of an individual that don’t align with the core values of your company, and and those that are based on cumulative life experience and innate habits.
The first set are non-negotiable and not what we’re here to talk about.
It’s the second group of imperfections that are either just the natural differences between people that keep it real, or things that need to be addressed because of a potential lingering impact on the business in some way that needs to be supported.
Natural differences aren’t the ones that you should be tackling. If everyone in the workplace thought and acted exactly the same way, nothing would ever change or grow. However, the types of imperfections that have a lasting and negative impact on a business provide a perfect opportunity for coaching and professional development.
Imperfections are almost always rooted to one source: lack of knowledge. Most people do and say things based on what they know, or at least believe to be true. Where they are obvious and important and can be addressed on the spot, they need to be. Giving feedback and providing accurate information is an ongoing and essential part everyday learning and interaction. Just do it. Most employees will thank you for it if it’s done in a respectful, consistent and supportive way.
Imperfections that relate to soft skills, such as managing people or learning how to negotiate a contracts, should be embraced and not looked upon as deficiencies. The first question shouldn’t be why the person doesn’t know how to do something.
Instead, every employee should be asked a simple question to start off the year, such as “Name 3 things you’d like to learn or skills you’d like to acquire this year that would make you better.” Then offer your own ideas and how to make sure professional development actually happens. Keep the lines of communication open, and have a regular conversation about it. Where other things crop up during the year, add them to the list and make a plan around skills development.
There isn’t a person at work who doesn’t want to know more and simply do a good job. Knowledge is the key ingredient to performing successfully and feeling good about yourself and where you work. No one likes to fail. But no one is perfect. Looking at imperfections through the lens of an opportunity for professional development, and helping your employees acquire key skills, is the recipe for success.