Perfectionism is alluring. It sounds wonderful in theory. Everything always works out perfectly. Projects and performance meet every expectation. The reality is that perfectionism camouflages many traps that leaders step right into if they aren’t careful.
A couple of years ago, I wrote about how perfectionism can inhibit trust. Our desire for perfect outcomes can feed our lack of trust in others to do a job well. It can cause us to make cagey decisions and hoard information. The logic being, if we harness more control, the outcome will be more perfect, right? Wrong. Business consultant David Swain calls this “hiring people from the neck down.”
In other words, are you hiring people only for their arms and legs? Brains need not apply? Do you tell your people the goal at hand and exactly how to go about reaching it? Or do you let them go about creatively infusing their own talents? An effective leader delegates appropriate tasks and focuses on the high-yield areas.
Inhibiting trust isn’t the only trap of perfectionism. Author Melody Wilding warns against aspirations of perfection because she believes this “ism” is the biggest blocker of swift decision-making. Our faulty thinking leads us to believe that there is only one correct answer to a decision and that we also must know everything about a potential topic to make a decision about it. Paralyzing!
To reign in these impulses, Wilding suggests asking yourself, “Which decision will have the biggest impact on my priorities?” or “Of all the people I could possibly please or displease, which one or two people do I least want to disappoint?”
While neither inhibiting trust nor blocking swift decision-making has been my downfall, I have a trap of another kind. I tend to obsess about a less-than-perfect outcome after the fact, but I’ve worked hard at compartmentalizing my imperfect results. I’m not only putting up four walls; I’m adding a floor and a roof! That allows me to focus on learning from an event rather than becoming absorbed in what would have made it perfect.
It’s been said that golf is a game of recovery. Nothing could be truer for our workplaces right now.
A prime example of how I create mental boxes around subpar results is the game of golf. Oh, you know what I’m talking about if you play. I just finished a book called Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect by Dr. Bob Rotella. This book won’t tell you how to swing your club; it’s a book about the psychology of the game. Rotella tells you how to leave your bad shot behind you and focus on what’s ahead. We know that success breeds success, and the same holds true for underwhelming outcomes. If we focus on bad shots, guess what? We get more!
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It’s been said that golf is a game of recovery. Nothing could be truer for our workplaces right now. If we’re not figuring out how to bounce back from the disruptions of last year, then we risk getting caught in that trap of analyzing why we couldn’t achieve perfection in the midst of upheaval. What an unforgiving mindset and a losing prospect.
Resolve to trust in others’ desire to perform, allow yourself the freedom to make timely decisions, and move on from less-than-perfect outcomes. If you can focus on avoiding these three traps, then your head will be in the right place for the next challenge. Who knows, you might even become a better golfer too.