Perfect Leader Pitfalls

In last week’s post, Too Busy To Lead, we discussed the challenges in establishing a balance between our workload and our leadership responsibilities.

Today I’m digging into the mishap of being a perfectionist. Whether you are a full-blown perfectionist or just someone who can’t stand mistakes, these feelings could cause you to mistrust the abilities of others and may even keep you focused on the un-successes vs. the achieved successes.

I’m certainly no psychologist, so I won’t be giving advice or selling medication for the advanced perfectionist! But I have worked with and coached many highly-driven, high standard teammates. In fact, I am attracted to them; they are my favorite people to lead. I love their spirit, and I’d rather redirect a high-strung maverick than kick a lazy mule in the rear. I’ve learned that when I give these driven perfectionists leadership responsibilities I must be committed and consistent with coaching and redirecting their perfectionist quality.

While serving as an executive in a large organization, I overheard an employee in another department say, “Stupid people wear me slick!” Ha-ha, I giggled inside then I aggressively sought and succeeded at getting this person in my department. Why? Because you can’t teach spirited, healthy aggressiveness and I wanted that on my team. I knew I would have to work hard at coaching through the rigidness while still allowing this person freedom. But, for me it was worth the investment.

So how do you lead yourself or others who have this perfectionist quality? Here are a few tips:

The Perfect Report Card

Most perfectionists that I’ve lead were straight “A” students. While in school, they placed a lot of pressure on having a perfect grade point. The grade of an “A” was success while a “B” was seen as under performing. Therefore when these perfect straight “A” students start leading they struggle with teammates who seem to dance around at the “B” and “C” levels.

I’ll never forget telling my straight “A” first-born daughter that her first “B” didn’t mean failure. I was actually glad to see this “B” on her report card and praised her for getting “all A’s and B’s.” After all, I had to study for my “B” and “C” grades and that “D” I made in eighth grade history didn’t crush my career. In fact, I contend the opposite!

I’m not advocating that we should be happy with lower grades. I am however, saying that as a leader you won’t perform with perfection and you won’t have perfect employees who do perfect work.

The Delegating Dilemma

Many perfectionists are fearful to delegate because they fear the task or project won’t be done to their high standard, or they simply don’t know how to delegate. They tried it once and it was a disaster so to keep that pain from happening again, the work remains on their desk. By doing this they become a slave to their own higher-than-necessary standard. Proper delegation is a skill set leaders must learn to master or they won’t ever be able to benefit from growth through replication.

Share the Opportunity of Growth

If you had to leave your current position for three months how would you divvy your work and who would you give it to? Sit down and make a list of things and people. It seems when we are forced to reassign some tasks we can do it, yet when not pressured, we don’t. Look at your list and circle your top three most crucial areas that need your attention. Anything not circled could become something you coach a teammate to do. As a leader, focus on the items that only you can do then give others the opportunity to earn some of your tasks.

Re-Prioritize Your Perfection

How are you performing on your leadership efforts? Are people on your team prospering and growing? Are they better off because you are their leader? Transition your task-oriented perfection and try to align that achievement drive towards your leadership responsibilities. Seeking perfection in production is fine, but it doesn’t work in leadership because leadership is about influence. Rigid perfection won’t influence.

Having a perfectionist as a churn-and-burn producer makes for a happy environment; however, when expected to lead, the same talents that made that producer a company hero are the very ones that will cause their leadership success to crash and burn. It doesn’t have to be that way. Recalibrate your definition of perfect.

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