Leading Edge: Limitless Transformation – Perfectionism

Limitless Transformation from Aegis Learning and Tim Schneider

Almost as pervasive and frequently seen as overthinking, perfectionism can have severely limiting, if not completely defeating, consequences.

Perfectionism is the pursuit of perfection, and sadly, perfect does not exist in anything touched by mere mortals. To a perfectionist, perfection is attainable with more work, more effort, more time, and just one more look at it.

The pursuit of and delivery of quality is noble and all of us should work to produce quality outcomes, interactions, services, and products. There is no real substitute for quality and quality should be a standard and not a goal. But quality is not without flaws. Perfectionism is the pursuit of a quality without flaws, a totally seamless experience, or the fairytale relationship.

The greatest impact of perfectionism is lost opportunity. When good, or even great, would have carried the day, the wasted time trying to be perfect loses out on the opportunity. That could come in the form of a sale, a hiring decision, or going out to dinner. Perfectionists also are very self-critical when it comes to their own perfection, or lack thereof. This can create significant consequences for needed confidence and self-esteem. Perfectionists also alienate the people around them because others believe they can never meet the standards of a perfectionist.

Perfectionists can also come across as aloof or arrogant to others. This stems from their judging of other people, situations, and places as not being perfect. The mind of the perfectionist creates a standard and nothing and no one will live up to that standard. Smug they are (Yoda voice engaged).

We have a customer that we have worked with extensively, (training, coaching, and some consulting) that produces the most stunning customized homes. They are eye-popping and the designs are groundbreaking, never-before-seen product. Words alone can never do their homes justice. Their good is amazing dream homes. When they meet their design standards, their customers drop their jaws. But the perfectionism rub comes in that some of their design team spends extra time shooting for absolute perfection. On the surface this sounds noble but with each delayed design is delayed construction and delayed closing of the home sale. There is no regard for the commercial reasonableness in this pursuit of perfection and the extra time taken has diminishing returns to the company. Their good is awesome but the pursuit of perfection creates unnecessary delays and costs.

Another customer who is a Chief Financial Officer struggles with some members of her team that will use dozens of hours reconciling accounts with discrepancies under a dollar. They want it to be perfect but fail to see the unreasonableness of the additional expenditure in time chasing perfection.

One other characteristic of perfectionists is the failure to accept mistakes or issues from others. When they see a typo in an email, they stop reading it. They completely dismiss a body of work because of a mistake or two. They assume that everything should have the perfection that they seek to provide.

In any leadership role, working for a perfectionist is highly distressing for team members. Perfectionist leaders do not acknowledge the company standard for any product or deliverable, they utilize how well they would do something as the standard. They will withhold praise and appreciation until someone produces the same quality, or perfection, that they would, even on items that really add no material value (think font size, column width, color scheme). This grossly unfair approach to leadership will destroy the morale in any team and make that leader despised for perfectionism.

Perfectionists also like to “add value”. This is a phrase that Marshall Goldsmith uses in his previously acknowledged work “What Got You Here Will Not Get You There”. Dr. Goldsmith describes a scenario where someone provides an idea, and the other person suggests minor changes and edits that really don’t impact the quality of the idea. They added value for no reason but their own ego and sense of their need to achieve perfection. He goes on to identify the impact this has on the person with the idea and their desire to ever present an idea again.

That same scenario plays out with perfectionists all the time, at home, at work, in social settings. The perfectionist cannot leave a great idea alone without the interjection of added value designed to make it perfect. Unfortunately, what the perfectionist does not understand is the alienation of relationships and disenfranchising this causes.

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