Trying to be perfect will never be good enough

In what areas of your life are you a perfectionist? Do you have to have your DVD’s alphabetized but couldn’t care less if there are dirty dishes in the sink? Are you a stickler for spelling and grammar but fail to organize your work priorities?
Most of us have our obsessive tendencies in an area or two, but when that perfectionist streak expands to include most of the work we touch, it could mean trouble.
I notice that some professions are magnets for perfectionists. For example, attorneys and engineers typically dig down deep into the details (after all, those technical details are what attracted them to the profession in the first place). That’s laudable and helps them to be successful. But when they move up the ranks, it causes problems.
I was working with a process manager a few years ago, who had been buried in work and had been trying to get more balance in his life. “I’m a perfectionist, I guess,” he admitted. “Growing up, nothing I ever did was good enough, as far as my dad was concerned.” The manager discovered he had been so far into a project that he was doing the job of one of his managers who reported to him.
When he determined that he should step back and delegate those responsibilities to his capable employee, he made a list of all the steps that person should take to complete the project. When it was pointed out that the employee would be capable of creating his own list of tasks, the process manager realized how much of a controlling perfectionist he really was. “I wouldn’t want to work for me,” he said.
Here are a few ways to keep your perfectionist tendencies at bay:
  • Use the 80% rule: Rather than doing some tasks to 120%, complete them to 80%. Because you are a perfectionist, your 80% is everyone else’s 100%.
  • When a staff member does something her way instead of your way, ask yourself, “Will the outcome be close enough to what it needs to be?” If you let her apply her creative ability, or try out a different approach, you will create a more empowered employee who takes ownership in her work.
  • Instead of doing a project front to back, delegate the setup and research portion of it upfront. When the employee comes back to you with a plan and a process, you are more likely to let him or her run with the rest of it. If there are parts that you feel need to change, you will still likely feel more confident turning them over, since they have already done much of the background work already and have good knowledge of the project.
  • Team up on a project when your employee doesn’t know it as well as you do. Instead of using the old excuse, “I can get it done faster and better,” break the DIY cycle. Meet with your employee and let him/her know you are going to pass the baton. Give an overview and then break the project into chunks and meet regularly for feedback and coaching sessions so you are sure they are on the right track.  
Being a perfectionist isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it’s how you manage it that counts.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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