Embracing Imperfect Action

By Ted Behr, M. Ed., CPCC, ACC

I ran across this story from history recently and found that there is a valuable lesson for the present:

General George McLellan was well known for his ability to train and prepare troops for war.  He put his soldiers through rigorous training scenarios over and over until they were able to work as a cohesive unit, and he meticulously strategized battle plans until they were perfect.

At the height of his military career, General McLellan’s planning and preparation methods inspired President Lincoln to give him command of all Union troops in the Civil War.  The President had no idea that when the time came for battle, General McLellan’s greatest strength would be his undoing.

While General Robert E. Lee was at a disadvantage in Richmond, McLellan delayed his attack in order to re-organize, making sure that his plans and his troops were “just right”. This delay allowed General Lee and his men to escape, and the war raged on.

Over the course of his command, the General wasted numerous strategic opportunities due to his habit of over preparation, organizing and re-organizing, and over-drilling his troops to the point of exhaustion. Historians say that his perfectionist-driven procrastination caused the Civil War to last years longer than it should have, resulting in countless lives lost on the battlefield.

Are you too concerned with perfection?

It’s easy to fall into the McLellan trap. When you have a lot of responsibility, it’s understandable to want everything to run perfectly. You make plans and organize your thoughts over and over again, failing to take action because things aren’t just right.  The result is that you fall further and further behind, never putting your plans into play.

The truth is that the imperfect action you take is far better than the perfect action you never take. Life, like battle, is won by those who are willing to act when opportunity arises and correct their mistakes along the way.

Often, all it takes to land that promotion, start your business, or get the attention of the cutie with the blue eyes is a bold step forward, even if it’s not 100% pretty or polished. Trust that your training and preparation is enough…that YOU are enough, and dance a little bit with the unknown.

 What imperfect action can you take today?