Leading a team through change. It’s an imperfect practice.

For some, imperfection is a challenge and a fact of life. For others, the concept of imperfection is uncomfortable, avoided at all costs. There are costs to holding out for perfection. Leading a team through change is a challenge and an opportunity. The opportunity for an individual and team’s capacity to tap and harness creativity, to field constructive criticism and to take the risks required to explore new frontiers

Geri Halliwell, British Musician said: “Perfectionism kills art. I find that if I criticise myself, it spoils the fun. You can get paralysed by analysis – it takes all the playfulness away.”

Halliwell reminds us that letting go of perfection gives us a more fun, playful and spacious arena in which to explore our creativity. In leading change, creativity is essential. The creativity to tap our inner and team resources, to lean into courage, and to be curious in pursuing the unknown. In the exploration of the unknown, there’s a fertile place for learning, discovery, innovation and when embraced with a carefree spirit, a fun and productive playground.

Yet, seeking perfection is prevalent in our way of life, in the way we speak and to what we aspire to do and be. I wonder: Why do we seek perfection in the first place? As a society, we are conditioned to want the best of everything – the perfect job, house, car, family and children. I get that wanting the best is a goal – yet is perfection for the best?

Striving for only perfection in our home, family and work lives is a form of exerting control, to holding on to what we don’t want to lose. The reality is, that’s a strategy of ‘playing not to lose’. It’s a strategy of fearing the risks of trying new things, of being judged and criticized. Seeking perfection goes with a fixed mindset as identified by Carol Dweck, world renowned Stanford University psychologist. Dweck’s research and work speaks to the impact of mindset, of our belief system, as the practice of being either in a “Fixed Mindset” or a “Growth Mindset”.

As identified by Dweck, a fixed mindset is a belief system that a person’s intelligence, personality and character are carved in stone; that potential is determined at birth. The fixed mindset strategy and belief system reveals tendencies to protect and control our fate; to comply to societal standards rather than risk challenges and being and doing different. Living with a fixed mindset is to never fail, to avoid challenges, ignore constructive criticism and give up in the face of imperfection. That’s as tough a standard to live up to!

The practice of a growth mindset is a belief that our intelligence, personality and character can be improved and developed; where true potential is realized through learning and exploring what we know and what we don’t know. Carol Dweck writes: “people with a (growth mindset)… believe that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable)…” The growth mindset is a strategy and belief system of learning from failure, to stretching and taking risks and taking on challenges to reach higher and further. It is a strategy of ‘playing to win’, of striving for what we want, desire and envision as our primary focus and attention, through success and failure.

I believe nature is our best teacher. In nature, we experience anything but perfection. The land we live in, the climate we experience is different and changing all the time. I came upon a photo of the cross-section of a tree trunk recently. The size, width and colour of a tree trunk’s rings is unique to each, representing the climate conditions, season and age of the tree. In examining the cross-section of a tree, we may see imperfections and we can also see the journey, the changes that the tree has experienced. Unique and beautiful in the story it tells to someone versed in reading the patterns in the shades, lines and colours. In nature, we see constant changes in the seasons, in the growth patterns and in the crops, livestock and seafood that feed us. Is there a perfect food, plant or beverage for us to consume? Which activities are just right to be fit, healthy and active? We discover what works and doesn’t work through trial and through error. That’s a fact of life. So is imperfection. As human beings, we are inherently flawed.

As more and more leaders expand to a growth mindset, their beliefs, values and attitudes shift from a place of giving up when times are tough to one of rising up to challenge, to persevere through challenge. Change Leaders engage teams with a determination to win, alert, focused; mobilizing and influencing a growth and learning culture through change.

As more change leaders step up and show up growth minded, they cross over the edge of change to tap and harness creativity and innovation, to effectively navigate and learn from failure and to take the risks required to explore and realize the gifts of change. Leading change, it’s an imperfect practice that is uncomfortable, unknowable and ripe with limitless potential and possibility.

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