How to Overcome Perfectionism as a Leader

Perfectionism stops progress from happening - here is how to overcome it


Grace Tripathy , Mon 9 May 2022
Do you have a perfectionist on your team? The good news is that your direct report has high standards and a fine attention for detail. The bad news is that he fixates on every facet of a project and can’t set priorities.
Can you harness these positive qualities without indulging the bad? Can you help them become less of a stickler? Yes and yes. 
In fact, many people claim to be perfectionists because they think it makes them look good. But true perfectionism is a flaw more than an asset. In many cases, this compulsive behavior can be a thorn in the side of a great performer. 
Managing a perfectionist can be challenging but it’s not impossible. And when done well, you both will benefit. 
 
Discovering perfectionism in the workplace 
 
Recently, an executive from a Fortune 500 company was experiencing issues within his team; he felt that they were performing well but they were failing to give him feedback
As he dug deeper to find the reasoning behind this issue, he found that his team struggled with a competition issue. 
His team’s drive to be perfect and not show mistakes gave the executive a false sense that everything was going well. And in turn, his direct reports were hesitant to give honest feedback because they didn’t want to look bad or come off as imperfect. 
Fortunately, he had the group to work through his challenges. Just like his direct reports were fearful of going to him with issues, he was fearful of going to his boss with the issue that he built a culture that wasn’t psychologically safe and competitive which resulted in issues being hidden, and developing into larger issues. 
 
A perfectionist is defined as a person who refuses to accept any standard short of perfection. It’s not necessarily a bad trait! Striving for perfection means you care a lot about your task and your desired goal. 
There are actually a lot of pros and cons to perfectionism in the workplace: 
 
Pros and Cons of perfectionism from direct reports
 
Pro – Your direct reports go the extra mile with their tasks.
Con – Your direct reports often put in a lot more work than they may communicate with you or your team, creating an exclusive atmosphere in the office where people feel as though they are in competition with each other.
 
Pro – Your direct reports look as though they really have everything together. 
Con – Your direct report lacks honesty with you and the rest of your team because they are constantly trying to attain an image of perfection in order to hide the fact that they are actually imperfect, just like everyone else.
 
Pro – Your direct reports have motivation, determination, persistence, and drive; all qualities that most people find redeeming and can make a great candidate for a job.
Con – Your direct reports often stretch themselves thin trying to constantly exude these qualities in every aspect of their work, to the point where they create an environment of competition rather than togetherness. 
 
One of the most important pros and cons of them all happens to be a huge challenge of perfectionism that acts as both a pro and a con: 
 
Pro – You never accept failure from yourself.
Con – You never accept failure from yourself.
 
There are pros and cons to everything, but the challenges to perfectionism can breed a culture of competition where no one wants to admit their mistakes. Sometimes, people end up sabotaging each other rather than working together. And worst of all, when an issue arises, people hide it and try to solve it on their own, which in turn creates a much larger problem for the team to deal with. 
 
What is the biggest challenge of perfectionism? 
 
Some signs of perfectionism in the workplace include:
●     Very high standards (and the belief they must be achieved)
●     Highly self-critical
●     Fear of failure and making mistakes
●     Over-focused on minor details
●     Obsession with rechecking/redoing work
●     Difficulty completing a task or project
●     Overachiever
●     Stressed or anxious about performance or results
●     Too much competition
 
However, the biggest challenge when dealing with perfectionism is not wanting to make mistakes. If your direct reports are struggling with perfectionism, they likely are afraid of making mistakes, and even more afraid of others (including you) finding out that they’re capable of making mistakes. 
Just the word “mistake” is capable of striking fear in a lot of people’s minds when it really shouldn’t. It makes them anxious, indecisive, and at times, overwhelmed too.
It’s not a nice feeling to be regretful about something that you worked hard for and put a lot of time into. This is where direct reports may get caught up in either trying to be absolutely perfect or simply not reaching their potential by “playing it safe” and not trying new things out of the fear of making mistakes. 
As a manager of this team, it’s your job to encourage your direct reports to find a happy medium! 
It can be very easy for your direct reports to get stuck in the area between the paralyzing side of the fear of making mistakes and gathering the courage to give it a shot, or in the area of perfectionism where they’re too scared to admit to their mistakes.  
 
How to effectively manage the challenges within perfectionism 
 
Create an environment where it is mutually understood that you (the manager) take the blame when things go wrong. 
Mistakes happen! 
A leader who assumes the blame, and passes the credit, sends a message that mistakes are OK and that when they happen, it will be an opportunity to learn and grow. By inspiring those beneath you, your employees will emulate your best traits, which will include assuming the blame for themselves.
            The best leaders inspire others and give credit. 
Giving credit and taking accountability sets yourself apart from the team, as a guide toward your team’s overall success. The more emphasis that you put on guiding your team, rather than showcasing your leadership (by taking credit or blaming others for mistakes), the more respect you will gain from your direct reports.
Here are a few important tips for creating an environment with your perfectionist direct reports where it is assumed that mistakes are inevitable, and welcomed: 
 
  1. Appreciate the positives while recognizing the negatives
Working with perfectionists can be frustrating. They tend to be impatient with or hypercritical of others and they’re not good at delegating. 
However, it’s your job to recognize that while irritating, their behavior is not all bad. It stems from a place of care for their work
In fact, because of their insistence on excellence, they often raise the standards of those around them. Be sure to tell them that you appreciate the level of enthusiasm and drive that they bring to the team, and encourage them to work more with the team, rather than against the team, on their own. 
A perfectionist wants to do what is best for them and their goals; be sure to reassure them that they will reach the highest of their potential by sharing, communicating and working inclusively.
Every employee needs feedback. But perfectionists may have a harder time than others hearing criticism of their work. 
Since critique is difficult for them, perfectionists are likely to hear only the negatives. Instead, share your apprehensions first
An important aspect in giving feedback to a perfectionist is to ensure that they know they are appreciated and valued. Don’t be afraid to ask your direct report: “Is there a most efficient way that you prefer we exchange feedback with each other?” and “What aspects of your work could use greater clarity from myself or other team members?”
With this in mind, you can deliver the input in a way that won’t make them defensive or demotivate them. 
 
Looking for a more efficient way to evaluate performance reviews within your company? Ambition in Motion offers their software, AIM Insights reports, ensuring visibility over all ongoing activities: task performance, manager performance, organizational citizenship, team performance, and goals for direct reports. Click here to learn more about how you can simplify your performance review process! 
 
            Managing a perfectionist can be challenging but it’s not impossible. And when done well, you both will benefit!

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