10 Ways “Excellence” Differs From “Perfection”

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.
Maya Angelou

At some point in my workshops, I like to tell folks that I’m a “recovering perfectionist.”
This usually gets a laugh and usually a couple of people flash me a smile that telegraphs “I’m a perfectionist, too.”

I then remind them that a perfectionist is doomed to a life of misery because no one can ever be perfect. Perfection is unattainable – in our relationships and in the way in which we communicate.

There’s more nervous laughter and from the perfectionists lurking in the room there’s another flash of, “yeah, you’re right, BUT. . .”

One of my favorite venues in Southern California is The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach.

Beginning with the valets on through to the managers, the service is impeccably gracious, attentive and laced with light-heartedness.

The Director of Catering once told me that the resort’s guiding motto is –
the pursuit of perfection

He explained that “pursuit” acknowledges that perfection is never fully attained and excellence can only be found in the pursuit.

He was spot on.

My experience, personal and professional, is that people who obsess over perfection often slip easily and unknowingly into difficult behavior.

As a “recovering perfectionist” I will admit to this.

What does a perfectionist behaving difficultly look like?

When your driving goal is to get whatever needs done perfectly right, you’ll become a contortionist to avoid a mistake.

When you feel thwarted by obstacles that are preventing you from achieving your “perfect” vision or when you cave to the demon voices that tell you perfection is lost, you can become a wallowing pessimist.

However it plays out, you’re miserable and unable to function energetically and strategically.

The demand for “Perfection” causes anxiety. The smart, healthy, effective person provides platinum service by being committed to the “ongoing pursuit of excellence.”

Excellence is attainable. Pelican Hill is a shining example.

So, what does excellence look like?

Excellence can be summed up in THE best tweet I’ve ever read –
“What can I do for you?”

Perfection is focused on “me.” Excellence is focused on the “other.”

Pursuing “excellence” means consistently asking the questions that challenge us to be more attuned to genuine service:
• What more can I do in order to offer service more smartly, more strategically?
• How can I do what I offer differently so as to be more efficient?
• Am I doing anything that self-sabotages me?
• What did I learn/relearn in the past week about how to better serve my customers / colleagues?
• Is there anything I should be doing that I’m not doing because I’m afraid to do it?

Perfection is rigid and unchanging.
Excellence is fluid and adaptable which comes about from asking self-reflective questions.

What did I learn and relearn from the good folks at Pelican?

  1. Saying something is not the same as communicating. Always check for clarity and understanding.
  2. Customer service is more than reading from a script. It’s about tuning into the nuance of the encounter.
  3. Caring is rare. People know this and so react when felt cared for.
  4. You can and need to take charge of what you offer no matter your title or position.
  5. The needs of the moment require an agility in being resourceful.
  6. Trust can be easily lost – and almost as easily restored by acknowledging mistakes.
  7. The chronic challenge is not to get caught-up in frenzy created by the customer. If we do we then lose the ability to be strategic in the service of excellence.
  8. People crave to be recognized. This is an eternal truth.
  9. There is a kindness to excellence. You cannot be kind and perfect as perfect is too harsh to be kind.
  10. We are all inter-connected and so excellence is not isolated. It seeps into the DNA of a culture.

Now THAT is the business of confidence!

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