Don’t let perfection be a roadblock to progress

A fourth-generation community banker recently shared a piece of advice she got from her father. There are times and situations, he told her, when giving 80 percent is good enough. 

In our cover story this month, which bestows our first ever “Spirit of Community Banking” award on the second- and third-generation leadership team at Ohnward Bancshares, you’ll find an example of how a less than 100 percent effort was the ticket to success. In the story, Al Tubbs shares how he led a group of business leaders to buy the historic Operahouse in DeWitt, Iowa, which had fallen into disrepair. A true restoration would have been extremely costly. A renovation, meanwhile, cost far less and really was enough to ensure the venue was safe and usable. The experienced banker leading the effort knew his community needed a vibrant theater; he knew it needed to be a good place to see shows; he knew it did not need to be a showplace. 

Throughout my years at this magazine, I have seen writers spend half a day trying to force the perfect lead for their stories instead of just trusting that the lead will become evident through the writing process. Winston Churchill summarized the obstacles people invite into their lives when he said: “Perfection is the enemy of progress.”

Young bankers, novice writers or unseasoned professionals working in any industry who strive for excellence as a matter of personal pride often struggle with “good enough.” In some professions, like healthcare, an 80 percent effort might be considered malpractice. In professional baseball, 80 percent (heck, 40 percent) puts you in the Hall of Fame. I’m not suggesting we give less than our best on everything we do. But there are times when achieving serviceability allows you to move on. The key to knowing which task needs your A+ effort and when a passing C gets you out the door is experience. People who don’t have a lot of experience should be encouraged to seek the advice of the people who’ve worn their heels thin walking through similar situations. 

That banker being advised by her father to pull back on her effort wasn’t buying his advice. Not at first. The impulse to cut your own path is powerful. Now she’s a community bank president who told me she understands there are, and there will always be, tasks that create more stress and anxiety than they are worth. It is to those tasks that one needs to adopt a “good enough” approach. She learned it for herself but acknowledged that had she trusted the advice, she’d have saved time and stress.

As I read our cover story on Ohnward Bancshares, I was intrigued by how well the leaders work across the generations to learn from each other for the benefit of others. Community banks are somewhat unique in that they’re so often led by multiple generations of family. The industry, if it is to thrive, needs the energy and ideas and appetite for innovation that its next generation brings. It also needs the wisdom of its elders to know when, where and how those great ideas should be deployed. If you work in proximity to experience greater than your own, be sure to tap into it now and then.