Perfectionism and Leadership – Is Perfectionism Holding You Back?
I was recently working with one of my clients on the area of perfectionism. She talked about the standards she places on herself; feeling inadequate if she makes one mistake, mulling over it for days as the uneasiness builds. This is an area I know all too well. I’ve struggled with perfectionism throughout my life, and have often wasted a great deal of time and energy striving to create the perfect business plan, the perfect presentation, or even the perfect gourmet dinner for friends. The list goes on!
The truth is, people who are challenged by perfectionism usually don’t think they’re perfect. More often than not, they fear what people will think if they find out how imperfect they really are. Many perfectionists struggle with living up to their own internal standards and want to be accepted and appreciated by others.
While researching for this article, (after all, it needs to be perfect!), I found that there are two types of perfectionists: adaptive and maladaptive. Adaptive perfectionists are more goal-oriented and conscientious, and adjust well within groups. This type of perfectionist scores high on leadership abilities and tends to be the kind of person who reaches for attainable goals and continuously seeks self-improvement. Adaptive perfectionism tends to be self-oriented; meaning, they adhere to strict standards while maintaining strong motivation to attain perfection. By contrast, maladaptive perfectionists tend to fear criticism, are obsessive over order, and seek total admiration. These perfectionists as leaders tend to be micromanaging, emphasize hard work over results, and struggle with building and maintaining positive relationships with others. The impact can be de-motivated employees, underdeveloped staff, and high turnover.
Perfectionism can serve you well if it’s healthy and focused toward self-improvement and strong goal orientation. And it’s important to be aware of when you are being self-critical and irrational.
Here are eight strategies for being a “healthy” perfectionist:
Get out of your office. Schedule at least three, fifteen-minute blocks of time a day to get out of your office and connect with people or to go outdoors. Giving your brain a break brings clarity and focus.
Delegate and trust. Perfectionists often feel they will be seen as successful leaders if they can do it all. The opposite is actually true. A good leader is able to delegate some tasks and projects and focus on the important, high-leverage areas.
Develop employees. The more time you take to develop your employees, the more opportunities you will have to delegate work to them and free up your time for the most important projects.
Pare down your to do list. At the end of each day, pick one or two important tasks or projects that are essential to complete the next day. Instead of focusing on a long “to do” list, start your day by focusing on your two important tasks. Determine that your day will be a success if you complete these items.
Focus on being, not just doing. Perfectionists usually focus on accomplishments and tend to neglect downtime. Designate a downtime every day where you shut off everything and leave the demands behind.
Celebrate mistakes. We are all human. When you make a mistake, celebrate! Better yet, tell your staff about your mistake. They will actually have more respect for you for admitting you are not perfect.
Strive for excellent instead of perfect. We waste so much time and energy trying to ensure every detail is perfect. Often what you think is only “good” work is seen as far more superior in others’ eyes. Strive for excellence, and accept that you can be more productive by not being perfect.
Meditate. Take ten minutes a day to meditate and quiet your mind. This has made a huge difference in my life. I am calmer and more focused, and have reduced my anxiety significantly around what needs to get done. Even though I’m not perfect at meditation, closing my eyes for just ten minutes makes me feel more in control.
Awareness is the first step toward reducing anxiety around perfectionism. Start noticing the irrational thoughts going through your head (i.e., I’ll get fired if this report is not perfect) and bring yourself back to reality.
Laurie Maddalena coaches executives and leaders to become highly efficient and effective leaders in their organizations. You can learn 10 strategies for successfully coaching employees with the free special report available at http://www.envisionexcellence.net
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