Perfectionism is a broad personality style characterized by a person’s concern with striving for flawlessness and perfection and is accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations
Chances are that at some point in your professional career, you have been negatively impacted by a stickler boss, making you feel as no effort was enough to meet the highest standards of performance.
Some organizational cultures promote and reward perfectionism and perpetuate these tendencies justified by an orientation toward excellence. Studies of these organizations have revealed lower morale, siloed structures, inefficiencies, blame, rigidity, and unrealistic expectations.
Perfectionism is draining because it is not realistic and does not lead to success. These tendencies hinder success when consuming valuable energy in a constant need for order and organization.
Dr.J. Clayton Lafferty, a pioneer in the psychology of achievement and human effectiveness, conducted a study looking at the lifestyles and personalities of 9,211 managers and professionals. His conclusion: striving for perfection is likely to harm employees and companies alike. PsychologyToday.com reports:
Perfectionism has nothing to do with actually trying to perfect anything. It is about illusion, the desire to look good. Because they equate their self-worth with flawless performance, perfectionists often get hung up on meaningless details and spend more time on projects than is necessary. Ultimately, productivity suffers.
If you have been in those environments for a long time, you might learn to operate in a stickler mode without noticing it. Unfortunately, this is a fast track to unhappiness and a great deal of anxiety.
Just recently I was coaching a leader who was experiencing high levels of anxiety at work. She was in shock when her 360-assessment revealed her stakeholders did not see her as an effective leader, despite all her long hours and dedication. When exploring the source of her chronic angst, she discovered a need to control all the outputs with an orientation toward meticulousness and fault finding toward herself and others. She wanted the work to be done in a certain way, documenting her high standards and micro-managing the ins and outs of her team deliverables. She was constantly frustrated and judged others when ‘failing’ to deliver. She was burnout impacting her overall wellbeing. Her need to control and become perfect was sabotaging her success, losing track of the big picture. Also, she was creating a toxic environment that was demotivating and frustrating to her direct reports.
Shirzad Chamine, the founder of Positive Intelligence, has coached hundreds of executives and CEOs who have achieved career and financial success but feel miserable. He found out that the strengths of the organization, quality of work, order, and structure lead to rigidity, anxiety, and frustration when taking to the extreme. It causes resentment, anxiety, self-doubt, and resignation in others, who feel constantly criticized and evaluated.
According to Shirzad, the justification lies of the perfectionist leader are:
· It is a personal obligation. It is up to me to fix whatever mess I encounter.
· Perfectionism is good, plus it makes me feel better about myself.
· There is usually a clear right and clear wrong way to do things. I know how things should be done and must do the right thing.
These false beliefs perpetuate a behavioral pattern that is self-defeating. Awareness is power. If you are experiencing some of these tendencies, here are some recommendations you can implement to increase your impact, effectiveness, and job satisfaction.
1. Identify a 20% bucket for which the highest quality of work matters and be willing to let go of the standard for the 80% to a good enough category.
2. When you delegate, clarify what good enough is and let go of the need to be perfect. Explore and discuss with your staff promoting curiosity, experimentation, and learning.
3. Embrace a growth-mindset mentality, seen problems and failures as learning opportunities, for you and others.
4. Identify SMART objectives that are realistic and help your team identify roadblocks that hinder progress. Provide blameless feedback as an ongoing way of working versus surprise inspections.
5. Share with your team about your self-awareness journey and help them to identify their own perfectionistic tendencies.
You might be a leader with perfectionistic patterns that sabotage your peace of mind and success. Now that you are aware, you can intercept those tendencies and replace them with the conviction that you do not have to be perfect in everything you do.
Connect with the part of you that can generate outcomes where quality truly matters, and let go of the anxiety about controlling the rest. Your team will thank you, and you will be able to deliver at a higher impact while retaining your team and getting their best work.