Continuous Improvement Will Kill Your Team and Your Career!

The author says that the concept of “continuous improvement” leads to frustration and burnout. She proposes a better approach.

Recently, I had a client ask me, “Where is the line between accepting myself as I am and continually improving myself?” She went on to explain that she knew continued personal growth was key to her professional growth, but she struggled to come up with an approach that didn’t leave her feeling either demoralized, overwhelmed, or inept.

I was impressed with the insight and awareness demonstrated in her question and realized that many leaders struggle with the same issue as they work with their teams. How can they get the job done better, faster, more accurately, or more efficiently unless they mitigate the weaknesses in the team?

As with all leadership dilemmas, this is where the Leadership Foundation comes in. The Leadership Foundation is that internal space that each person (formal supervisor or not) takes action FROM. 

Historically, we’ve been trained that the way to make something better is to examine it for the things that are “wrong” and fix them. This is where the concept of “Continuous Improvement” was born. Continuous Improvement assumes that there is no such thing as perfection, and because something isn’t perfect, it is therefore flawed, broken, or otherwise of little value. 

The Leadership Foundation–or “come from”–in Continuous Improvement is fear, scarcity, lack, and victimhood. It sets up a constant energetic push-back against the very thing a person or organization is trying to improve. In the workplace it shows up as “flavor-of-the-month” initiatives, employees second-guessing themselves, and bosses wasting time on minutiae. No wonder people wind up feeling frustrated, burned out, and pissed off. 

Continuous improvement will shut you and your team down cold.

So what’s the solution? After all, you still want to make yourself and your organization better, right?

Simple. Shift your Leadership Foundation from fear, scarcity, lack and victimhood to greatness, possibility, and potential. Seek Mastery.

At first glance, it may sound like mere semantics. But let’s take a closer look. When one is seeking mastery, there is an underlying, unspoken assumption that at least some elements are working. There is good stuff happening.  And, the forward-moving energy is already there. There is no resistance. 

Do we want more good stuff? Of course!

So, what does that look like in practice? How do you begin to seek mastery? Whether you are seeking mastery within yourself or within your work unit, the approach is the same.

Challenge yourself to focus your attention on the following questions:

  1. What am I/are we really awesome at? 
  2. How can I/we do MORE of that?
  3. How can I/we use those awesome capabilities in a DIFFERENT way to accomplish the objective?
  4. If I/we got EVEN better at the stuff I’m/we’re already awesome at, what would it look like?

Seeking mastery provides access to a whole new level of problem-solving, creativity, innovation, and resilience. I look forward to hearing specifically what seeking mastery opens for you! 

About the Author

Martha Wilson is a retired CIA Operations Officer, leadership instructor, transformational coach and the founder of Greatness In Government, a leadership and personal development firm that specializes in re-energizing mid-career government employees. Organizations that are struggling with complaints about bad leaders, discrimination, bullying and other symptoms of employee dissatisfaction hire her when they are ready for a fresh approach to leadership training. She also provides private coaching to high-potential government employees who have decided to assume responsibility for their own personal and professional development.