Doubling up the workload? 4 ways to unwind perfectionism

  • perfectionism

Doubling up the workload? 4 ways to unwind perfectionism

“Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” Lao Tzu

An executive team leader called me recently. Conversation started, with the words, “Madelaine, this is alarming!” It took all the strength she could muster not to rewrite the letters her PA put in front of her to sign. Nothing was actually wrong with the letters and yet her feeling was overwhelming. This woman’s concern immediately reminded me of a businessman who contacted me only months earlier to say his own micro-management traits were driving him nuts.  Similarly, I’d had the captain of a national rep sports team describe to me how exhausted he was trying to do a better job than apparently half baked team mates. Can you see a trend here?

Could dissecting the relationship between management, leadership and perfectionism be the key to looking at these challenges?

The behaviour exhibited in each of these circumstances has a positive intention so my first aim was to find out what these leaders were actually seeking. Each explained to me that they were looking for success, scope to break new boundaries, quality output and pride in delivery. My next enquiry with them was to appreciate why they had other people working alongside them and what benefits they hoped this might achieve. Their responses included increased productivity, ability to grow, success, more time to do other tasks, reduced stress and work / recreation balance.

Why were they causing themselves the grief of doing rework and doubling up their workload?

Management can be defined as the coordination of resources to achieve a specific outcome. In other words a manager is tasked with resourcing to accomplish goals. Leadership is a process of social influence where a person guides and organises a group of people to achieve a common goal. In both leadership and management nothing is written about having competent people around you, directing and coordinating their completion of tasks and then redoing all of these tasks yourself! So this leads to appreciating perfectionism. Perfectionism involves striving for flawlessness and setting very high performance standards.

Have leadership, management and perfectionism become enmeshed?

The history of perfectionism dates back to Plato and Aristotle. Historical definitions suggest that perfectionism defends that what is right is whatever most promotes certain objective human traits such as knowledge, achievement, and personal success. What I often see in perfectionist managers and leaders is feelings of guilt associated with not actually doing the work themselves and a personally painstaking approach to being responsible to deliver a higher level of detail that is immaterial to the final outcome.

There are 4 ways to unwind perfectionism:

1. Identify the behaviour in your actions by being aware of circumstances where you are creating your own rework and the tweaks you feel need to be made are immaterial to the final outcome. Be aware that this behaviour disempowers your team and may lead to them feeling insecure about their work quality.

2. Become very deliberate about the outcomes you need to achieve and document how you are going to delegate work and leverage resources to complete tasks. Ensure that you specify the standard required and communicate this. Remind yourself to be outcome focussed. The proverb you need to remember is, “there are 100 ways to skin a cat.”

3. Choose leadership deliberately. Leaders are outstanding at influencing and guiding people to achieve an outcome. This is a skill that needs to be learned. Model leaders that you admire.  Discover their strategies and mirror them in your own ways.

4. Become a gratitude machine. Look for ways to appreciate people even more as a means of bringing out the best in them. Especially if you have created barriers between yourself and your team through perfectionist behaviour. Celebrating what’s right is the best way to start this process.

What if you still feel out of control and are urged to perfect? Find a trusted colleague or friend to speak to. Consider having some leadership coaching with a compassionate mentor who will provide you with uncritical guidance.

So how did my three leaders overcome their urge to micromanage and perfect things? My female executive funnily enough started her journey at home. When her kids made their beds, she used to remake them! She discovered that she needed to appreciate more and criticise less. Taking the steps to unwind perfectionism was liberating and gave her time to enjoy life even more. The micromanager created detailed plans and then mentored his team to deliver the standard he wanted. And the team captain discovered gratitude and appreciation.  Starting with his over functioning self.


Madelaine Cohen Author

Lipstick Learning is an initiative of Sydney based business leader, Certified NLP Trainer (ABNLP), entrepreneur and Master NLP Practitioner Madelaine Cohen. Sharing information and joining forces with people who choose to lead. Madelaine has more than two decades of inspiration from her businesses in consumer products, sports marketing, executive coaching and healthcare. She takes a leading role in mentoring executives and training business leadership in large and small enterprises. Why? Inspire people to lead and together we can create lifetimes of health and happiness. To find out how you can lead with even more authenticity and ease, contact Madelaine through Lipstick Learning. Madelaine welcomes connection and networking so if you have something to ask or share, go for it.