How do you pursue excellence while leading your team?
Do you feel a compelling need for things to be absolutely right, regardless of how important the task is? Do you avoid trying something new because you’re afraid you’ll get it wrong? Is it difficult to delegate or hard to let go of your control once you delegated a project?
If you answered yes to any of these you could be a perfectionist and you might not be doing yourself any favours.
There has been a lot of research around perfectionists and their success at work. Gladeana McMahon and Adrienne Rosen summed up several research projects in their article Why perfectionism at work doesn’t pay.
I’ve picked out the things I found fascinating. And the good news is, if you answered yes above and think you’re a perfectionist, you can choose to change.
To aim high you have to find your balance
McMahon and Rosen say perfectionists tend to take an all or nothing approach to tasks, even the small ones. They believe work will be judged on a pass or fail basis with no grey. They cope with this by spending an inordinate amount of time on projects that are not crucial and feel stressed and anxious about delivering those that are.
You can have a healthy approach in aspiring to excellence. The difference is in the pleasure you take along the way. A healthy approach allows for mistakes, you see them as a way to learn and allow yourself to take credit for the part that went well. It also allows you to hand a project to someone else and supervise without too much anxiety that they won’t meet your standards.
Good leaders aren’t always right
McMahon and Rosen also quote some Fairplace research, done in 2008, using 360 degree reviews and interviews with senior managers. The managers claimed that what distinguishes successful leaders is the ability to be vulnerable, to admit their mistakes and not worry about always being right.
The challenge is making the transition from the reputation you built by doing excellent work on projects, to being a leader willing to admit mistakes. As a leader you still need to make good decisions but the emphasis is about motivating and encouraging others. This may mean letting them see you try a new approach and learn from it, even if it didn’t work. As a manager your goal is to achieve results through other people. That means things may not always go according to plan and your team need to know you’ll support them when it goes wrong.
New ideas are rarely perfect
This research says that leaders need to create a vision for the future with new ideas and possibilities. A fear of failure can limit the ability to push for untried ideas.
A healthy achiever enjoys tackling new things, even when they are worried they don’t have the skills to do it well. They are more flexible in their thinking and see a variety of factors adding up to the finished project. They can be fulfilled by their ability to empower others, build a team or be adaptable enough to cope with a change in circumstances.
Equally, a good leader must listen and be open to challenges. Perfectionists believe they know best and won’t encourage others to question or unravel their ideas.
If “perfect” didn’t exist where would your thinking take you?
There is good news. Perfectionists can change the way they perceive situations and coaching can help that process.
When people learn to recognise that there is no threat, other than the one they have created, it lowers their stress and increases their creativity. It also allows them to take more risks.
Coaching can help you identify the things that flip you into perfectionist mode. It helps you look at where being a perfectionist holds you back and how to replace those thoughts with something new, which allows you to change your perception of the situation.
A conscious change in behaviour can also improve your ability to include others in the decision process, encourage people to explore possibilities and delegate projects more often.
If you recognize yourself as a possible perfectionist, take notice of how often you feel a real sense of anxiety about letting a project go without making changes. How often do you increase you stress by spending too much time on a task that doesn’t have major significance or argue adamantly that your way is the only way to get the right end result.
Then ask yourself if it’s worth hanging onto. Being a perfectionist is a mind set. It will take a conscious effort to change – just as it does to learn anything that’s new. Awareness is the first step. If you’re in a hurry to leave the perfectionist in you behind, get some coaching to help you move away from existing habits and create new ones that serve you better.
The result will be worth it. It means more time for the things you enjoy, less stress and anxiety in your life and a much happier team around you.
If you enjoyed this post you may want to read Your A Manager, It’s Your Job To Add Value, Right?