The Perils of Perfectionism

Employees generally agree that leaders with a passion for excellence, quality and accomplishment benefit their organizations. These qualities place leaders at the top of their fields. No one faults managers who give their all and make sacrifices, but too much of a good thing can also pose problems.

Perfectionistic leaders may be as damaging as those who embrace mediocrity. Perfectionists often obsess over process, commonly insisting that tasks be completed their way. Often accompanying perfectionism is obsessive-compulsive behavior, with leaders demanding adherence to narrow windows of acceptable norms. While ostensibly committed to doing what’s best, perfectionists have tightly controlled definitions of what best means.

Perfectionistic leaders frustrate their people, burden them with extreme expectations and cause resentment. A leader’s desire to do the right thing leads to a rigidly controlled, distrusting and unaccepting culture that smothers people into submission. Fortunately, there are ways to understand and deal with perfectionism while maintaining excellence and productivity.

Do You Have Perfectionistic Tendencies?

In my work as a coach, I have seen an increase in perfectionistic leaders, and it’s no wonder: researchers have found that perfectionism is on the rise:

Perfectionism has increased substantially among young people over the past 30 years, with no regard for gender or culture. It manifests itself in three domains: self-oriented perfectionism, or imposing an unrealistic desire to be perfect on oneself; other-oriented perfectionism, or imposing unrealistic standards of perfection on others; and socially-prescribed perfectionism, or perceiving unrealistic expectations of perfection from others. The underlying reasons for the trend are not fully understood, but greater academic and professional competition are implicated, along with the pervasive presence of social media.Psychology Today

Perfectionists believe they have a keen mind for what works (and what doesn’t). They assess optimal methods and outcomes, endeavoring to implement them—a fine goal, as long as leaders avoid obsession.

By definition, an obsession is a dominant, persistent focus on a thought or feeling that overrules all others. Obsessions take leaders down ineffective paths, where they’re blinded into believing that effectiveness is possible only when absolute perfection is achieved. The cycle then escalates: The more leaders focus on efficacy, the greater their need for perfection.

Do you have perfectionistic tendencies? Does your manager?  Have you addressed them?  If so, how?  Feel free to contact me to share your experience(s).  You can reach me here and on LinkedIn.