Overcoming All-Or-None Thinking

Lawyers often have perfectionistic tendencies, according to study after study. And while perfectionism can seem like a useful attribute when details matter as much as they do in the practice of law, it actually tends to cause more problems than it avoids since perfection is more often than not an impossible standard to reach. See this article for more on why that is and how you can step toward setting your standard to excellence instead.

How does perfectionistic thinking affect business development? If you look at your business development efforts through the lens of perfection, you will be disappointed. You won’t do business with 100% of the potential clients you’d like, you won’t win 100% of the pitches you deliver, and you won’t receive responses from 100% of the people you contact. That’s a guarantee.

Equating a lack of success with failure means that you’re going to fail a lot in business development activity, just like everyone else. If you see the benefit in learning from your failures and changing your actions as a result, that might be a good thing. But if you see failure as proof that you’re not going to be able to build your book of business as you’d like, you’re probably going to hit a wall pretty quickly.

Moreover, if you aim for perfection rather than excellence, you may find that you’re stopping yourself from trying when you know you can’t achieve perfection. If this week’s goal is to draft an article or to meet with a key contact or to put in an hour doing what’s on your BD list and your schedule suddenly goes haywire thanks to client needs, you may decide that it’s better to do nothing than to do part of what you’d planned. Maybe that’s ok for a week here and there, but if it becomes your regular response, you’ve just undermined your own potential.

What does it look like to aim for excellence in business development? Set your overarching goals and your “when everything goes right” tasks that will move you toward those goals. Be sure both your goals and your tasks are:

  • Specific and measurable (bring in $X of business or deliver 3 CLE presentations to in-house counsel at a client or potential client organization, NOT get more business),
  • Achievable and realistic (don’t set a goal of bringing in $1M in new business this year if you can’t plot out a likely path to that goal based on your current position), and
  • Time-based (bring in $X of new business in the next year or deliver 3 CLE presentations to potential client organizations in the next six months).

In other words, setting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-based) goals build the path toward excellence and away from perfectionism.

To stay on that path, ensure that your gaze remains firmly on what’s realistic. Perfection might push you toward achieving what you set out to do with no variance, but realism allows you to shift your objectives so that you continue to move forward, not to shut down when client demands or a family member’s health (just as examples of the many disruptions we all encounter) make the original goal unrealistic.

What are your SMART goals for this week?

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