I had dinner with a good friend who recently received a life-changing medical diagnosis. Thankfully, it is does not threaten or shorten his life, although 20 years ago it may have. So it is serious enough that he does require ongoing medical care, and he must be diligent about self-care to keep his condition stable. Given that I can only see how amazing he has been in absorbing all this change, I was equally amazed when he admitted that he was lamenting his less active lifestyle as he watched his friends compete in “tough mudder” running competitions that he used to do with them. All I could see is how many hurdles he had surmounted in such a short time, and all he could see was how much he wasn’t doing.

It’s easy to find this same attitude manifested all around us, and it makes sense. Anyone who is successful at work has gotten there because of his or her achievements. “High-performers” set and meet high expectations and are known for getting things done. We are acknowledged and rewarded for our visible accomplishments. Is it any surprise that “doing hard things well” is seen as a badge of honor, and that when our performance is not that, we think we have failed? Given that our role at work is to perform and get things done, how do we know when that attitude starts to become counter-productive? Here are some ways to find that boundary.

Clearly define success. I am working with a client who is a perfectionist. He knows he is but doesn’t necessarily see this as an issue because, “I hold everyone to the same high standards that I have for myself.” The problem is not that he has high standards; the problem is that his standards are not clearly defined. His employees have told me that there is no definition of “good enough.” As a result, the team spends a lot of time generating “more” – more statistics, more analytics, more insights – without knowing if or when they are done. In my friend’s case, his definition of “success” may need to be adjusted for new priorities such as maintaining good health. As a leader, it is your job to set clear measures of success for your team, what must be accomplished as well as to what standards.

Determine the way there. Our mindset tends to be that to reach our goals, we need to “do more.” But there are times when “doing more” isn’t necessarily the way to get us toward our goals. When is “be ok with here more” what is needed to move forward? These might be times where, for example:

  • Instead of telling your team what else still needs to be done, you take a moment to express gratitude and thanks for what has been done already. (And, you can do the same thing for yourself).
  • Instead of trying to convince someone you are right to quickly move to a resolution, you take the time to listen and be open to his or her perspectives with curiosity.

To be successful, we need to recognize when pausing is as important as pushing.

Identify your yardstick. We tend to rely on external measures to tell us whether or not we have achieved our goal. This is often necessary – we wouldn’t know the results of most sporting events without looking at the scoreboard, for instance. But there are times when these might not be the best way for us to determine if we’ve achieved our goals. Only looking to external measures can:

  • Mean we don’t feel validated without external feedback
  • Lead us to compare ourselves to others
  • Tie us to measures that might not accurately reflect our goals

Determine who or what you are using to gauge your achievements, and whether these are aligned with the definition of success that is appropriate for you.

Ask yourself if it’s time to change how you define success for you and your team, how you move toward that destination, and how you know you are there. It might be time to make adjustments that better serve you and your team.

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