Beware the Perfect Record

Standing among group at charity fete few years ago was man I’d long admired for his string of unbroken successes in the business world. When I said as much to woman who worked in his field, I was surprised by her raised eyebrow. When I asked others about him, here’s what I found out about him:
* He took credit for successes, but not for failures;
* When he was presented with choice between doing what was expedient and what was right, he always took the shortcut;
* He valued employees for their unthinking obedience rather than for their input; and,
* He was good golfer but bad sport.
“He may have perfect record,” said one person who’d just emerged feeling burned by negotiating with him, “but he’s disaster waiting to happen.” In truth, there are all kinds of perfect records. In sports, perfect records are prima facie evidence of superiority.
In business and other fields, however, it pays to look at how perfect record is made and sustained.
In every field there’s place where perfect record should be red flag, not victory banner. In the law, it’s the prosecutor with the unblemished string of convictions – which means he won’t take on cases from his staff unless they’re slam dunks.
Does that really serve society, or does it allow criminals to go untried and unpunished?
In sales, if someone is putting up comfortable numbers by hitting the same customers year after year, they’re not breaking any new ground.
What happens if one of those customers is sold or changes the focus of their business?
Another sales Achilles heel is going for volume over quality.
This is fault of inexperienced or unfocused salespeople, but some top performers also cynically pad their records – even though they know that 80 percent of their profits will come from select 20 percent of their customers.
Good leaders fashion winning teams out of the materials at hand. They understand that if they can’t get the budget they feel they need, or the extra time, or added staff, it’s not sign to give up and under perform. It’s time to show what they’re paid for – leadership.
Good leaders can build on the strengths of imperfect human beings.
Remember how Dorothy does this in the movie of The Wizard of Oz working with the cowardly lion, the scarecrow, and the tin man? She’s real team-builder.
The opposite is the wizard, of course, projecting his exaggerated image on screen with plenty of impressive special effects. In the end, he’s revealed to be charlatan hiding behind curtain.
He’s good at taking credit for the way things are – and his bluster inspires fear and respect – but when something must be done against the odds, he doesn’t know where to start.
He’s spent all his time perfecting his powerful image.
When you’re judging an executive’s or business’ record from the outside, ask yourself if it was built against easy opponents.
A manager who boasts of exceeding performance benchmarks every year may simply have had the bar set too low.
What do they know about overcoming discouraging results, motivating employees for an uphill slog?
What will happen when they face setback?
To take the measure of company or CEO’s success, look instead for the narrow losses, particularly to see what happens in the ensuing quarter.
When the narrow losses become narrow victories you know you’re dealing with true leader.

Mark McCormack is the founder of International Management

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