In a recent Discovery interview with a senior partner in a law firm I was told that if you give a lawyer a choice of two pieces of work, one they are experienced in and the other they have less experience in they will invariably take the first. What followed was a fascinating conversation about the pressure lawyers (in this instance but really could be any professional service) place on themselves to get things right. No one wants to hire a lawyer who gives incorrect advice!

But what happens when this becomes the dominant attribute of your profession, the dominant pattern of your organisations culture, of your leadership style? What happens when you hand this down from leader to graduate, from mother to son or in my case, from father to son to son to daughter? What happens when your desire to get things right means you can never get things wrong?

For many, perfection and a fear of making a mistake become the drivers of how they approach their work and life. Depending on their level of self-awareness they may or may not be conscious of this pattern of behaviour and the impact it has on their own work and on others around them.

We’re surrounded by the desire to get it right. I read recently that analysis of the stock market shows that we hang on to underperforming stock far longer than we should because to sell at a loss is to admit a mistake (Matthew Syed, Black Box Thinking). Apparently, we offload successful stock at a faster rate to prove to ourselves that we’ve ‘got it right’.

While the prize in the work context might be the recognition of being highly regarded and a trusted provider, there is also a high price.

When you live with a fear of making a mistake, it’s hard to develop others, to innovate, test new approaches, invest in new markets. Whilst the rhetoric of the organisation may be to grow the business, innovate and be progressive, these often unnoticed habits of thinking will ensure this vision is not achieved. And, as you can imagine, it can have a huge impact on one’s mental health and wellbeing. I don’t doubt that the recent introduction of an onsite psychologist in some firms is in response to the pressures associated with the need to be right, to get it right, to never make a mistake.

So how do you tackle this without compromising your outputs? How do you create balance?

  1. Build self awareness (360 feedback processes such as The Leadership Circle or discovery interviews with key colleagues will draw this out).
  2. Follow up with individual and team coaching
  3. Identify what’s at stake
  4. Explore what a progressive mindset might involve
  5. Identify opportunities for innovation
  6. Explore the concept of ‘fail fast’
  7. Work to establish new patterns of behaviour to shift the culture.

If you’d like to talk more about creating this shift please get in touch.