Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect


I’m in the midst of a series of posts aimed at ending trite leadership sayings. After a strong start last week, it’s time to challenge another hip yet hazardous saying:

“Practice makes perfect.”

Perfection is Impossible

  • Middle managers keep telling sales representatives learning new processes,
    “Practice makes perfect.”
  • Entrepreneurs producing the next hot smart phone app keep telling the staff writing code, “Practice makes perfect.”
  • When it comes to writing sermons, elders tell young pastors, “Practice makes perfect.”

No, it doesn’t.

Practice can develop skills. Practice can improve consistency. Practice can boost confidence.

Practice does not make perfect.

In reality, perfection is impossible. We are imperfect people living in a fallen world. We literally can’t reach perfection by our own power. When we do reach perfect, it won’t be this side of heaven. And we won’t be doing the perfecting.

The Problem with Perfectionism

There are leaders who really do expect perfection when they say, “Practice makes perfect.” If employees or staff want to keep their jobs, they better deliver perfect. Better keep your resume up-to-date.

Other leaders want perfection, but don’t necessarily expect pure perfect. Even these leaders are setting impossible job expectations. Setting up employees and teammates to fail is poor leadership. Doing so habitually borders on abusive.

From what I gleaned researching the topic, people with perfectionist personalities are often trapped in vocations that seek perfection. On one hand, they are affirmed by leaders also value perfection. On the other hand, they can suffer from a number of emotional maladies because they never see themselves as truly reaching perfection.

Don’t Go There

Odds are some of you wholeheartedly agree with my premise, but are deeply disappointed in my conclusion. This is because one of your favorite leadership sayings is,

“Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”

When I first heard this saying, it was attributed to baseball player Cal Ripken Jr. I’ve also found it attributed to football coach Vince Lombardi Jr. The saying make a lot of sense. Practice poor fundamentals in baseball (or music or painting) and you perfect the imperfect. One video clip of my golf swing proves this hypothesis beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Now I know better.

“Perfect practice makes perfect” just doubles down on guilt and hopelessness. It’s not enough to produce perfect results. Now we have to attain perfection in rehearsal and performance.

Where to Go

Keep encouraging practice. Ensure everything about practice is intentional and has a purpose. Challenge the choir to reach the next level. Ask the church staff to seek continuous, ongoing improvement.

Just don’t expect perfection. This is as close as we’ll get to a perfect time to stop saying practice makes perfect.

What trite leadership saying do you think need to end? Share your thoughts in the comments or shoot me an email. Next Tuesday I’ll chase down another trite saying we need to abandon.

Other posts in this series include:

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