The imperfect perfectionists: 10 Tips for Perfectionist Leaders

Are perfectionists really perfect?

No. “Perfection itself is imperfection” (Vladimir Horowitz). I am a recovered perfectionist. Perfectionism is like paralysis. It can ruin your sense of balance in life. Focusing on my failures stopped me from starting any project because I feared imperfection. It is important to accept that “fear is inevitable…but I cannot allow it to paralyse me” (Isobel Allende). Remember it is “better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing flawlessly” (Robert H. Schuller). Perfectionism is not a friend. It can ruin your relationships. Steve Jobs’ perfectionism made him hostile and dismissive to his employees because he wanted every single product that he created to be flawless both inside and out. Perfectionism is a disease. Sufferers can experience stress and depression. Leaders are more likely to be ‘infected’ with perfectionism because they believe that they cannot afford inaccuracies in their work.

So are you a perfectionist leader?

Do you work on projects yourselves and only delegate a few tasks to your subordinates? Do you enjoy the technical details of your job much more than the people? Do you spend time on a task or project that does not need constant finessing? If you experience any of these symptoms, you are a perfectionist.

Ten tips for perfectionist leaders

  1. Think of ‘your schedule as Gold’ – Set a time limit on the job tasks to be completed and produce some doable steps. Use Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix to help you prioritise your tasks better.
  2. Feel free to say “no” when work demands become unrealistic – It is okay to say “I will get back to you when I have the answer”. Remember ‘Rome wasn’t built in one day’.
  3. Distinguish between 60% and 100% tasks – Some situations such as legal matters and client recommendations require 100% delivery but not all.
  4. Imagine you are required to go on a vacation for a month where you will have limited access to your team, who will manage your projects in your absence? Who will attend work meetings? Who will present work back to customers and stakeholders? Now, pretend that you are not going away on the vacation and ask yourself why am I not doing these now when it can reduce my demands and improve the relations with my employees. Remember that if you keep your perfectionist habits you may be going on a permanent vacation!
  5. Trust your subordinates and stop assuming that you have the only best solution.
  6. Make your goals SMART – Move away from broad goals i.e. ‘I am going to take this company to the next level’ that have no ending points. Set SMART goals that are realistic and reachable. Achieving these goals will increase your self-esteem.
  7. Laugh. Yes laughing about embarrassing experiences can make you feel better because it helps to release endorphins; the body’s feel-good chemicals.
  8. Aim for less than 100% – you will then see that imperfection does not cause the world to come to an end.
  9. Stop comparing yourself with your colleagues – Remember no one’s perfect. People who seem ‘perfect’ to you have or have had their own challenges and disappointments.
  10. Distinguish between perfection and excellence – you can learn to produce high standards without aiming for perfectionism.

To all recovered perfectionists, I’d like to hear from you, what techniques have you used to overcome your perfectionism?