The Relentless Pursuit of Improvement


Over the past few weeks, as my work has carried me everywhere from Peru to Paraguay to a weekend away with Margaret to celebrate 50 years of marriage, I’ve been reflecting on my personal journey of improvement.

It’s no secret that I believe growth is the only guarantee that tomorrow will be better. It’s no mystery that I think personal growth is the steppingstone to success for any leader. If you or I want to stay in front of the curve and lead others, then we must do the work that keeps us out front.

We must continually improve.

But as I seek to improve, there’s one thing I know not to chase, and that’s perfection. Perfection is a trap. I like what speaker and author Jon Acuff said in this interview with Dan Scwhabel of Forbes:

“Perfectionism is never finished. That’s the lie. There’s no such thing as perfect, you can always improve. So perfectionism draws an ever moving, ever expanding finish line that you never reach.”

I love that idea of the ever-expanding finish line for two reasons—one, when you or I chase perfection, we will always stumble across another area where we need improvement. Thus, the line will always move.

The second reason I love that statement is because I’ve come to realize that, when it comes to personal growth, the goal will always be just beyond my reach. There will always be more I can become.

Here’s the leader’s greatest truth: personal growth has no finish line.

You’ll have deadlines for projects and times that you’ve got to release your work into the world, because that is the nature of work. Actions and deeds have limits. Your growth and potential do not!

You will always have room for more, unless you set your standards low enough that you can easily meet them.

That’s what some leaders do—drop the bar for themselves and their team, in order to attain that mythical sense of perfection. Lowering the bar also lowers the lid on what you or team can accomplish. The pursuit of perfection actually caps your potential instead of releasing it.If I could give you one gift today, it would be to release you from the snare of perfection. You don’t have to perfect—but you do have to improve! In fact, you must be committed to the relentless pursuit of improvement. For a leader, getting better is anything but a hobby. You must invest the time required to improve in some way every day.

With that in mind, here are three keys to relentless pursuit of improvement:

  1. Humility—knowing that you have room to improve is the first step toward improving. Humility is having 20/20 vision when it comes to your strengths and weaknesses; knowing what you do well, but could do better, as well as knowing what you don’t do well, but others can complement.
  2. Curiosity—a closed mind is a stagnant mind, so if we want to keep our minds growing, we must keep them open. That means being curious about ourselves, our people, and the world we inhabit. So ask questions. Try new things. Introduce yourself to new people. Let curiosity open doors you’d never think to open.
  3. Grace—there are other words that could go here, but I think giving yourself grace is an overlooked component of personal growth. It’s also what perfectionism strips away—the ability to forgive yourself when you fail. Because failure is an essential part of growth, you and I must learn to embrace it, learn from it, and improve because of it! Grace gives us permission to do exactly that.

I’m 72 years old, and I wake up every day with the firm belief that there is someone or something I will encounter that can and will teach me something new—if I will allow it.

I face each day with the understand that I’m not perfect, and I’m never going to be. But it’s okay: I don’t have to be perfect. I just have to be a little bit better.

Author George Will said it this way: “The pursuit of perfection often impedes improvement.”

Don’t chase perfection as a leader—chase improvement. Make today better than yesterday so tomorrow can be better than today. The relentless pursuit of improvement will take any leader far.