October 18, 2018

Why It’s Important to Take the First Step

In working with a large number of up-and-coming leaders in my company, I have come to realize that one of the biggest leaps one can make in their career is transitioning from a manager to a director. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, right?  Both involve the leading of people with a little more scope woven in. Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple. One of the interesting trends I’ve seen in reviewing the leadership 360s of many of these promotional candidates is the sometimes debilitating trait of perfection.

As a manager, it’s their job to ensure everybody gets everything done and done well. Oftentimes, that includes the fear of giving up some control, because allowing those who work for you to take on more responsibility might put your project work in jeopardy. In other words, if you manage it, you own its success or failure.  

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that by holding it yourself that it will be executed flawlessly. You also risk demotivating your team members who are hungry to pick up more for their learning and development needs.

I was reminded of this recently when I grabbed my well-worn paperback, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. Someone had given me a copy when I started writing several years back, and I found it to be both incredibly insightful and instructive. And while the title refers to a story about taking things one step at a time*, the notion emphasizes that there is no room for perfection.

To borrow a quote from one of the most brilliant minds of our generation, Stephen Hawking, “One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn't exist. Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist.” That’s a massive picture lens on perfection and the universe, but translated to our everyday lives, it suggests the quest for perfection is our enemy. It keeps us restricted and on the edge of crazy.  

It’s also the biggest obstacle between you and a sh*tty first draft.

We all want to deliver great results and impact, regardless of what our role is.  However, it’s an incredibly lofty perspective and often prevents us from digging deep within ourselves to deliver our best possible work. Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”  For whatever reason, the older we get, the less messy so many of us become. Messy is necessary.  Hence the need for “sh*tty first drafts.”

We have to take that step forward just to get started. It might be a total disaster as a starting place, but you’ve taken that first step forward. By embracing the mess, you’ve chipped away at the overwhelming feeling that comes with not knowing where to begin. Moreover, you now have a place to build from.

Feeling overwhelmed by a big project in front of you?  Take a crack at a first draft. Expect it to be sh*tty.  Put it aside, and go back to it later. You’re very likely to have new ideas and perspective to make it stronger.  And then edit it again. Collaborate with others to enhance it. You will get to a successful end but in a far less intimidating way.  And you will have broken free from the need to find perfection in your work...and you might enjoy the journey to get there too.

Christina Luconi is Chief People Officer for Rapid7. Follow her on Twitter: @peopleinnovator

* The Story of Bird by Bird.  Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”