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Leaders Need to Learn “It’s Good Enough”

Years ago, I learned the principle of “good enough.”  To be a good leader, I had to accept that people would not do things the same way I did things. They could do things well enough to accomplish the goal. That meant I could delegate to them, and trust that they would get the job done and done right.

I’ve mentioned the “good enough” principle a few times recently only to receive a lot of criticism. It surprised me to find that people thought of “good enough” as a bad thing.

One person cited the saying: “It’s good enough for government” meaning it’s substandard or low quality.

As someone who worked for government (NYC), I object to this because I and my team delivered excellent work. We believed the people of New York City deserved the highest quality work we could deliver, and we worked hard to deliver it.

There is a widespread perception, however, that government workers produce low-quality work. If that’s the case, I wonder why so many millions of Social Security checks are delivered on time, and tens of millions of Medicare bills are paid keeping hospitals and medical offices solvent. So in fact, “good enough for government work” is in fact good enough to meet a lot of standards of quality.

When I talk about “good enough,” I refer to trusting someone to deliver work that achieves the goal we have agreed upon.

When I delegate a project or responsibility to someone, I am clear about several things:

  • what outcome or impact I expect them to deliver – usually measurable
  • the quality of the outcome if that’s appropriate
  • when they are expected to deliver it
  • when I’d like them to check in with me to report on progress
  • the collaboration or teamwork I expect, or other values that are essential
  • the budget and other resources they have to work with
  • who the key stakeholders are, meaning whose eyes are on this project

There may be some other things that we discuss and agree on, such as whether and when I’d like to see a project plan. If someone is very new to working for me, I will often ask for that as a way of learning how they work and establishing trust. Then they go and do the work in the way that works for them.

I don’t really care how they get the results as long as our core values are maintained and the goal is achieved.  In other words, the person doesn’t have to do things the way I do it for their work to be good enough.

In sum, “good enough” is not about abandoning standards and accepting mediocrity. It is about establishing trust in your team, and letting go of control. Leaders MUST trust in order to delegate. And delegation is based on accepting that team members will do things well enough to achieve the desired outcomes.

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