Fact: The more successful you are, the greater your risk of developing blind spots. Why? Because we all suffer from Hubris to some various degrees. If you have ever attended one of our workshops on Emotional Intelligence, you have undoubtedly heard Dr. Namin speak on Hubris and how the greatest Achilles for most CEOs is their inability to see that and other possible blind spots as they grow to be more successful. The road from Good to Great means reinventing oneself and constantly discovering character defects and breaking bad habits that stand in our way. One such habit, or what we like to call character defect, is perfectionism.
Although it may seem that perfectionism may have served you well at certain points of life because it has pushed you to do your best, be more competitive, etc., in reality, it has not surmounted to you feeling more confident as a result of those wins, but has rather built you up to be more dependant on them. Complicated, we know. But what is not complicated is yet another fact. The fact, although seemingly counterintuitive, is that there is actually a very dangerous cycle; a Triad of psychological disorders that is given life and fed by perfectionism.
There’s a direct link between perfectionism, depression and anxiety; Crippling anxiety for that matter. The lowest level of the anxiety causes procrastination. One may think that perfectionists want everything done neatly, thoroughly and timely, which they do. However, more often than not, they feel such pressure to do things perfectly that they are overwhelmed before they even start. A soothing behavior is then to keep occupied with a million other tasks, so that they always have an excuse for why they’re unwilling to do; what actually needs to be done.
If you already know that are a perfectionist, you’ve probably already found it troublesome; possibly have even been majorly hurt by at some point in your life. Quick decision to write things or people off, disappointment in your own abilities and anguish in missed opportunities, not to mention impaired or lost interpersonal relationships.
In a recent coaching session, I was asked by a very well accomplished executive and perfectionist; “Based on what we’ve discussed and what you know about me, do you think I will be successful if I venture to doing….?” I knew better than to say of course, or no you wouldn’t. You see, because I come from a school of thought that believes no one lives by the truth of others; even if they find that other person trustworthy and credible. Everyone lives by his or her own truth.
So, let’s get back. What is Perfectionism?
According to the National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health, it is “a pathological pursuit of usually unobtainable high standards that is strongly linked to anxiety, depression (2), and eating disorders (3)”.
In other words, perfectionism is the idea that a state of complete flawlessness can is the only acceptable way. Perfectionists believe that any outcome anything less than perfect is not good enough and completely unacceptable.
Anyone having ever worked with a perfectionist boss knows the pain and anguish we are talking about here. Nothing is ever good enough. Unrealistic expectations, micromanaging characteristics, attacks on the employee’s character which leads to bullying, belittlement and the demise of the overall morale of the department/organization not to mention legal ramifications. Furthermore, let’s not forget perfectionist project managers. They get so sidetracked by going for perfection, that they end up halting the progress of the project, causing conflict and frustration among others, undermining collaboration and bringing about missed deadlines instead.
Perfectionism not only causes the individual undue levels of stress, hopelessness, frustration and anxiety, but can make other’s lives miserable leading to ostracizing just to keep sanity.
So what? What is wrong with striving for perfection?
- An obsessive and pathological concern with wanting to ‘be perfect’ can lead to worry, regret, and fear of the future.
2. Perfectionists tend to procrastinate, because of their unwillingness to begin projects for enjoyment and
good outcomes. They know deep in their hearts that starting the project will cause overwhelmingly high
levels of stress and pressure for them, because it has to end in absolute perfection.
3. The irony of it all is that perfectionism makes for less effectiveness, when the initial goal was more
effectiveness. Because perfectionists “throw out the baby, with the bathwater”. Translation: quitting,
complaining, or uprooting the process out of anxiousness, because perfection was not immediately
Where does perfectionism come from?
Before action, there is thought, and before, thought, there is attitude. And attitudes can be viral and pandemic. The attitude to see the wrong rather than the right is what feeds perfectionism. When a child is raised in an environment of perfectionist attitudes, they begin to model that attitude as their way of life. Some examples include:
Hyper -critical or demanding parents, parents/caregivers who were quick to point out mistakes and slow to give praise.
- Having to perform under huge expectations and feeling valued purely
- through achievements.
- The sad concept is that these parents and caregivers where most likely
So where does it all stop?
One of the best ways to get a clear understanding of whether you are a Perfectionist is to gather a 360 Feedback. You can do this with your personal circle (three close people) or at your work environment (boss, coworker, employee) this is best done professionally. The Feedback can be a tremendous gift; a tool and an immense opportunity to become aware, adjust your unwanted behaviors and create the balance necessary for joy and a sense of accomplishment to enter your life.
Some sure tell signs of perfectionism are:
1) You obsessively play and replay a mistake you made
2) You are intensely competitive and can’t stand negative feedback
3) You are overly critical of others
4) You are constantly striving for independence and won’t ask for help
5) You find yourself very angry or sad or both a lot of the time when your expectation are not met
Our Five Tips for Keeping your Perfectionist in Check:
- Find and replace your “natural role models” (parents/caregivers) and find new role models. It doesn’t mean you are abandoning those you love, but rather rewiring your thoughts. Below are some examples of great role models.
- Look to the past, but just as a planning tool not a self-Assessment/ identifying tool
Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank did not have success out of the gate. Shortly after college, he was at rock bottom and living in his grandmother’s basement. However, he worked hard and persevered, and now uses the methods of his football playing days to build his business for the future. His managerial style is not unlike that of a captain of a sports team, and his company culture enforces a team-focused mindset that breaks into huddles for meetings, instead of having the typical round table discussion. The idea is to grow from past struggles and use those struggles in a different way to make future goals obtainable. In other words, learn from your mistakes.
- Surround yourself by free spirited individuals
If you can’t find anyone like that in your circle of friends, then read about them or watch movies about dreamers and risk-takers. There are many examples of people who have failed or made huge mistakes only to overcome them and create an even better life than they could have imagined.
Stories are a great way to get inspired. This is exactly why religious books, and mythology were used to help people transition from one phase of life to another in many cultures. There is power in story and identifying with a character that has gone through many trials only to re-emerge as the hero.
- Defy “Normalcy” and Strive to be Different
Break the binds and the shell that is dictated by society, norms, ideals, religion, or beauracracy. Define who you want to be by defining your boundaries instead.
Google CEO, Larry Page. Clearly, he’s intelligent and creative. He’s also driven, ambitious, and collaborative. All of these traits lead to his appreciation of innovation and his desire for others to bring innovative ideas and new thinking to the table, as evidenced in his work philosophy—“We should be building great things that don’t exist.” That thinking propels the company to take on radical-seeming projects (called “moon shots”) that push the boundaries of whatever is currently the “norm.” And that thinking drives his rigorously pushing employees to do their best, to set their own expectations for the moon.
- Start, Fail, Repeat, Repeat Repeat
Working for Jeff Bezos isn’t always a walk in the park. He has high expectations for his employees, and doesn’t apologize for it. In a Wall Street Journal article, there is a story from the early days of Amazon, when the company was only a bookseller. It is said that in those days, the company was so underequipped that they didn’t even have packing tables to pack the books, and employees had to pack thousands of books, long hours at a time, on their knees.
But by 1999, Amazon had 500 employees for the sole task of answering emails. They were each expected to answer 12 emails per minute, and could possibly be fired when that number dropped below 7. Without his penchant for continuously raising the standard for his employees, this would have never been achieved.
You see, what many people don’t know about Jeff Bezos is that he came from a farming background, not an MBA, executive culture. Having been raised on his grandfather’s farm and working there through his adulthood like, he was in the business of running and fixing tractors. Hence he began to be well versed in loving the process not just the end. He is keen to the art of perseverance. His fortitude and ability to accept failure, as a byproduct of creation is what sets him apart from perfectionist creators.
His idea for Amazon was not a genius one, but he had a vision, and the vision was to turn Amazon into a machine. Over the years, he was so attuned to his customers, that he was able to continuously improve the process of procurement and shipment. What was initially a small system, became a massive enterprise. Amazon’s functioning and customer service, came alive like a machine, not unlike the tractors he had built and took apart years before. By having patience with the process, not fearing failture but taking in lessons it taught, Bezos has now created an incredibly efficient machine. A machine, which is now famous for being able to make same day deliveries in over a dozen US cities.
This thing called Life
Sun Tzu, the Chinese Author and Philosopher in the Art of War said: “If the mind is willing, the flesh could go on and on without many things”. We live in a culture of Win-Loose; a culture of immediate gratifications that tries to teach us and our children that what you have objectively is what and who you are. Who we are is in our minds, and how we live our lives and touch those we come in contact with is what defines us. Your life is not a snapshot bur rather a reel of film, with segments of many many trials and tribulations and that is why What you are is defined by the means and not by the end.