Done Is Better Than Perfect

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I was listening to Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In on my drive a couple weeks ago. Lots of things to think about in her book (and not nearly as controversial as I was led to believe), but one small section stood out from the rest. At one point, she discussed a poster that she noticed shortly after starting at Facebook:

“Done is better than perfect.”

Interesting, I thought. Truth be told, I’m a recovering perfectionist and am perfectly content being quite type-A. But for some reason, I found myself resonating with what she was saying.

Is done better than perfect?

This summer I spent a good amount of time working through a few projects. Due dates were getting pushed back as we worked through the nuances of a word choice, a photo selection, or a slight color tweak. If I’m honest, it was a little draining at times. But more than that, I found myself wondering, is this extra time worth it?

I think that’s why I resonated with Sandberg’s comment. Our projects didn’t seem to be significantly more “perfect” even though we had spent an extra couple days or weeks.

Done is better than perfect.

But I still wasn’t sold. Embarrassing projects of the past floating into my head. Let’s just say, I’ve had my fair share of unfortunate typos, incorrect URLs, and email blunders. I may or may not have sent an email an incoming class of students, greeting them with the wrong name. Were these mistakes preventable with a little more time? A lot more time? How many rounds of proofing? How many rewrites and design comps? Where do you draw the line?

After some time to think and forget the mistakes of the past, here’s where I ended: Done is better than perfect—when something is done right. And something that’s done right is different than something that’s done perfect.

Here are the 3 keys to something being done right.

1. It accomplishes the goals/objectives

At the end of the day, the communication needs to do what it is intended to do. If an event postcard doesn’t entice people to attend, it’s not accomplishing its objective. What if there aren’t clear goals for a piece? Well, that’s a problem.

We need to have clear goals for our work, but also be willing to try new ideas and methods for accomplishing them. Some days our ideas won’t be right, but we need to try new things and new ways of communicating. In 21st century communication, “Tried and true” is rarely an accurate statement.

2. It’s within our brand and personality

Bottom line, what we do needs to sound and look like Bethel. No matter if it’s a prospective student, an alum, or a church partner, the recipient should feel like they’re hearing from the same Bethel.

Our new brand highlights a lot of great keys to making this happen, but here are two important ones—be inviting and not complex. Be inviting—I don’t care if it’s a gift receipt, a thank you note, or details about a financial aid package, the message needs to invite others into the conversation. Talk with others—not at them. Avoid complexity—people read, but they’re not going to read a novel disguised in an email, letter, or postcard (novel postcards are the worst!). Get the point, make it understandable, and be done with it. My wise colleague Kelsey Lundberg always suggests writing your content, cutting it in half, and then cutting it in half again.

Our new brand is just as much about design as it is content. It’s important that our visual representation reflects Bethel well and follows the same guidelines. So, when royal blue, navy, or Bethel gold get’s old—they’re still our colors and being consistent makes for a better brand experience.

3. It launches when it’s time to launch

Everyone suffers from some buyer’s remorse and a little bit of nervousness when it’s time to launch something—but that’s why we set deadlines. We could always edit, rewrite, redesign, and reimagine every webpage every day. But if we did that, we’d never have time for new projects. More challenging—would those webpages (or print pieces) be significantly better? Would the improvements justify the additional time spent?

Harvard Business Review did an article on What Really Happens When You Extend a Deadline and I’d encourage you to read it. Spoiler alert, more time isn’t as great as we think.

So, I’m going to try it. We’ll have ambitious timelines and some days will feel like a constant sprint. But I think it’s worth it. The message we are communicating is that important. As my high school math teacher would say, “Ready? Go!”

5 Signs You’re Managing Instead of Leading

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I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about leadership. It started a few months ago when I wrote a few posts on John Kotter’s 8 obstacles to change and ways to overcome them (don’t worry, I haven’t abandoned that series). During the process, I revisited a section of Leading Change where Kotter talks about the difference between leadership and management.

Then I went to the Global Leadership Summit put on by the Willow Creek Association. It was incredible, and listening to speaker after speaker talk about what it means to lead got my mind going. Many people are put in positions of authority and power. Does that make them leaders? Is a manager always a leader? Can you be a leader and not a manager? What’s the difference?

So I decided to make a short diversion from the obstacles to change to explore these questions. I hope you’ll bear with me, and check back for some tips on overcoming the obstacles to change shortly.

What’s wrong with managers?

Nothing. My goal here is not to disparage managers. They’re needed in every organization. They keep systems running and ensure consistency, predictability, and reliability.

But leaders inspire greatness. They bring out the best in the people around them. They empower and trust their people to have both the will and the confidence to exceed their own ideas of what they thought themselves capable. They make a real difference in organizations facing unpredictable environments. They innovate and lead growth and have the potential to take an organization from consistently good to overwhelmingly awesome.

That sounds like something I aspire to. How about you?

If you, like me, want to be a better leader, or worry that you spend too much time managing, this might be for you.

5 signs you’re managing instead of leading.

1) You think about org charts, not people

Do you think solely in terms of organizational structure?

When you’re calling a meeting to talk strategy or vision, do you make sure the people who can be valuable contributors are invited? Or do you use the org chart and involve people based on position?

When changes happen, when priorities shift, when you learn new information, do you get your people together to tell them about it, or do you assume important info will trickle down the hierarchy?

Do you know the people who actually do the work of your organization? I’m talking really know them. Like hopes and fears and aspirations and untapped talents know them.

If you operate purely in terms of organizational structure, you might be managing instead of leading.

An organization is about people. It can’t succeed without them. To be a leader, to inspire people to greatness, you need to think of them as more than boxes on an org chart. If you want to innovate, you need to trust and empower your people to be innovative, and then include them in important conversations. You need to earn their trust through transparency. You need to give them a reason to follow your vision.

2) You don’t have a vision

Speaking of vision.

Where should your organization be in 1 year? 5 years? 10?

How about next week?

You need a vision to know what greatness means, to know what it looks like when you’ve succeeded. You need to imagine something better than the present if you hope to grow. You need to have a destination in mind before anyone can follow you.

If you don’t have a vision for your organization, for your team, for yourself, you’re probably managing instead of leading. As Kotter says, “Visions and strategies are not formulated by individuals who have learned only to deal with plans and budgets.”

3) You love output and hate failure

One of my favorite sessions at the Global Leadership Summit was an interview on innovation with Indian entrepreneur and Dartmouth professor Vijay Govindarajan.

Govindarajan said there are 3 boxes for projects, and all of an organization’s efforts fit into one of them.

Box 1 is the present. Ongoing operations. The proven profit driver of an organization. This box needs consistent, quality production. This is where managers thrive.

Box 2 is for past projects that need to be forgotten.

Box 3 is planning for the future. This is where innovation happens. This is where leaders who can form a vision and set a strategy are needed.

The problem is that Box 1 and Box 3 are in conflict. Box 1 demands consistent output.

Box 3 has to value failure.

According to Govindarajan, the job for innovators (and innovative leaders) is to “learn to resolve assumptions and unknowns. The planning process has to be about testing assumptions. Spend a little, learn a lot.”

Failures are valuable because we learn from them. If you and your team aren’t failing, you aren’t learning anything new, and you certainly aren’t innovating.

4) You make decisions in a vacuum

The traditional view of organizational leadership is that there are a few people at the top who determine direction, set strategy and policy, and hand it down to their employees. It’s bureaucracy. In this type of structure, the few powerful figures don’t worry about gaining support or buy-in. They don’t need to. They make decisions and try to enact them using authority alone.

This is management, not leadership.

Leaders involve people in important decisions. They ask the right questions. They try to figure out which questions they don’t even know to ask. They get the perspectives and opinions of the people doing the work. And then, instead of trying to push people towards their vision, they give people a reason to follow them in that direction.

According to Kotter, “transformation requires sacrifice, dedication, and creativity, none of which usually comes with coercion.”

5) You ground your soaring eagles

Of course that sounds a bit melodramatic.

But don’t underestimate how important and valuable your budding leaders are.

My favorite talk at the Global Leadership Summit was given by Chris Brown (no, it’s not the one you’re thinking).

The Chris Brown who spoke is a co-senior pastor at North Coast Church in California and is passionate about developing young leaders. Really passionate.

Brown started his talk with the story of David and Goliath. If you aren’t familiar, the story takes place in the midst of war between Philistine and Israel. For forty days, Philistine’s mightiest soldier (a giant named Goliath) calls out the Israelites and their leader, King Saul. But they’re all too afraid to fight him.

Finally, a wimpy kid named David accepts the challenge. He walks out to the middle of the battlefield, and when Goliath moves in for the kill he knocks him down with a small stone thrown from a sling. Then he cuts off Goliath’s head and delivers it to Saul.

But Chris’s main point wasn’t David’s miraculous victory in battle. It was King Saul’s response to David’s budding leadership.

After David killed Goliath, Saul started trusting him with more and more responsibility. David was successful everywhere he went, so eventually Saul put him in charge of the whole army. But Saul wasn’t quite ready to share the spotlight, and when David returns from battle to chants of praise and choruses of women singing “Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7), Saul becomes insanely jealous and afraid, thinking David is a threat to the throne. So he plots to kill David, and fails over and over again. Finally, Saul is killed in battle against the Philistines (he falls on his own sword to avoid the shame of defeat) and David ascends to the throne.

It’s worth wondering: what if Saul had embraced David and shared leadership with his soaring eagle, instead of expending so much effort trying to have him killed? Would he have lost the battle to the Philistines? Would he have died before he needed to?

There are many reasons managers will smother budding leaders.

Some are afraid and protective, like Saul was. They worry about talented people threatening their status and position.

Some are jealous, and believe that success is a zero-sum game. In their minds, every bit of credit given to an employee is taken from a limited supply of recognition. And they aren’t willing to share.

Some are so focused on keeping the organization good that they don’t make room for things that could make it great. Young leaders don’t always fit neatly inside organizational structures. A budding leader with a strong vision, a desire for growth and change, and the ability to inspire will be difficult to constrain inside a box on an org chart. Managers believe their job is to maintain the status quo and support the bureaucracy. Young leaders are looking to shake the dust. This can be scary.

But organizations can’t afford to disempower budding leaders. Kotter says, “Wasting talent will become increasingly costly in a world of rapid change. Developing that leadership will, in turn, demand flatter and leaner structures along with less controlling and more risk-taking cultures. The negative consequences of putting people with potential into small boxes and micromanaging them will only increase.”

There you have it. Five signs you might be managing instead of leading. I hope this post helps you think about how you can be a better leader. One who inspires people to do their best work and is capable of amazing things. I also hope it encourages you that leadership can come from anywhere. You don’t need to be in a formal, appointed position of authority to lead. When you’re open to collaboration and invite people into your decision making process, when you empower and encourage people, when you support the visions of leaders you admire, or take the time to think about your own vision, when you’re bold enough to take big risks and aren’t afraid to fail, you show the people around you that you’re a person worth following.

6 Reasons Why Collaboration Doesn’t Make Me Cringe

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I’m well aware that the word collaboration causes many people to shudder. Believe me, I’ve been haunted by projects gone awry because of long meetings, dominating personalities, group think, or design by committee. I’ve been on the road to Abilene, and these experiences taught me to dread group work.

It’s true that collaborative efforts can be lousy and unproductive. But this doesn’t mean the idea of collaboration in itself is the problem.

As a writer, I love to collaborate. I know this sentiment is quite countercultural for the writing breed. Before I fell for collaboration, I’d throw on headphones and get lost in the cadence of my own voice instead of inviting other writers into my process. And when I came out of my hermitic retreats, it was tough to see how the ideas of an outsider could fit into my polished prose. I produced something great, thank you; I’m taking no comments at this time.

But, even though it’s in my nature to be the lone authoritarian of my written words, I’ve come to see that when I let other writers in, we produce something better than I could have alone. And because I want my writing to be its best, I now try to collaborate as much as deadlines allow (even if it drives fellow writers bananas).

Here are 6 truths that changed my mind about collaboration:

It makes me a better writer

We have a team of great writers here at Bethel. Whenever I let them speak into my work, I learn something valuable. With each revision and draft, I get more practice. And with more practice comes better first drafts.

It produces a useful product

In the end, what I write for Bethel is not about me.

I should care chiefly about creating the best product for my readers, audiences, and users, even if it means letting go of phrases I love. Having someone else read and speak into my work helps me focus on the bigger picture to make sure the words I’m choosing match the priorities of the project.

It creates consistency

Writers have a voice, a method, an approach to their writing that allows who they are to peek through. They have strong preferences about style and word choice. They believe in right and wrong.

But writing for Bethel requires that I quiet my voice and push aside partiality for the sake of the brand I represent. When other writers dig into my work, they take out the stuff that embodies too much of me and not enough Bethel.

It builds trust

I know I’m flattered whenever a teammate asks for my help. It validates my skills. It makes me feel valued, wanted, and appreciated. And I’m more eager to ask them for help in return because we’ve established an understanding that it’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to have questions. It’s healthy to rely on others and to support them in return.

It strengthens relationships

The pressure to write something useful each day is daunting, stressful, and draining. If I didn’t have such insightful and caring teammates, I’d be nearing the end of my marketing stint. So I involve my colleagues in my work because it creates meaningful conversation that builds our bonds. And it’s these relationships that keep me coming back to work each day.

It broadens my thinking

It’s easy to fall into familiar patterns for approaching the same content year after year for the same audiences. But when I invite a new voice to speak into my work, someone who has less history with what I do, they can help me break out of routines and habits. They free me up to take risks that might produce something incredible.

Ultimately, I do better work when I invite others to help me out. Sure, there’s often heated editorial debate and disagreement, but I believe the benefits of this tough work far outweigh the complications. And I always have a few personal side projects going just to feed my domineering tendencies.

So instead of shying away from feedback, I’ve learned that my work’s more fun when I have colleagues eager to pitch in and produce something great—together.