Katriina Tahka
April 10, 2023
Leadership, leadership development

A-HA! Leadership Series Part 1: The Perfectionist

The Perfectionist – they’re conscientious, impatient & afraid to make mistakes…

The Centre for Workplace Leadership recently released a series of satirical clips on bad bosses  to show how easy it is to learn bad habits from others. When the actors were pressed to improvise what a good boss did, they said something fascinating, “we can’t improvise that because we’d need to learn it first.” Brilliant insight! So I decided that would share with you six leaders I have found to be challenging in my career, and how to work with them.

Let’s meet our first leader, the perfectionist – AKA me. In 2007 I had my very first LSI 360 assessment completed. I had a great rapport with my colleagues, I was confident in my job, and had built strong relationships. The problem was that my perfectionist score was almost bleeding off the chart. Surely my colleagues saw my perfectionism as me following an action right through to the end! It couldn’t be that I had over-inflated views of what success was, surely? Couldn’t they see that I was trying to be realistic, wise, heroic, or even a noble warrior? What about a strong sense of right and wrong? Do you know how hard it is for a perfectionist to realise they’ve been imperfect? Whoa! That’s as mind blowing as seeing a crooked picture hanging on the wall – AARRRRGHH!!

Perfectionist strengths

Perfectionists’ strengths are that they can keep you motivated to deliver great work, focused on task, and encourage you to continually challenge yourself. The perfectionist tends to be on the look out for how to achieve the best outcome possible, which is a great asset for a team. Who wants to settle for second best? I’ll settle for 80:20, but not second best. Their immensely high standards usually means that they live by the rule that there is always one correct way to do things, regardless of how other sexy solutions may be out there. Once they’re fixated on the answer, it’s pretty difficult to sway them in any other direction.

Perfectionist challenges

The biggest challenge is that they tend to call out the ‘unfair’ card when things don’t go their way by donning a fine pair of cranky pants. Once the cranky pants are out, it’s difficult to get them off. Their self-righteous behaviour can be so exhausting for everyone around because they’ll dig their heels in pursuit of continuing to achieve their goal. Because after all, they’re focused on doing the right thing and you don’t know what you’re doing, so it’s best you just leave them alone to finish the work that you started. And don’t even think about rationalising with the perfectionist. You’ll be guilt tripped in to a conversation about why you let them down.

5 tips for working with the perfectionist

  1. They like to
    feel needed. It validates them

Invite a perfectionist to contribute to team conversations that show their expertise. They tend to be quick thinkers and can add value. Beware that they don’t try to take over though.

  1. They love autonomy

Don’t try to constrain a perfectionist because they’ll try to wriggle out. They love to nut out a problem with freedom to investigate different scenarios. Allow them to have the autonomy to do the thinking, but ensure they come back to share it.

  1. Remove the chaos, quickly

When a perfectionist starts to lose it, it’s vital that you gain control and get perspective. Go back to the why and calmly explain that all will be OK with the world if we take a different direction.

  1. They like to do things right, the first time

Guided by a strong sense of right versus wrong, the perfectionist is certain they know the right way. Ask them about the potential risks associated with their way. Nothing worries the perfectionist more than getting it wrong!

  1. They like to improve themselves and others around them

Ask the question, “what can we learn here?” The perfectionist will have something to say. Invite them to share their thoughts on development and invoke their sense of worthiness.

Do you have a perfectionist boss? Share your experiences with us. This is the first in a six part series on challenging leadership types, so if you didn’t relate exactly to this fellow, stayed tuned for my next leadership blog and you might meet someone familiar!

Luckily good coaching and leadership development can really make a difference.  Think you or someone in your team might be able to benefit from some coaching? Chat to us about our A-HA! coaching.

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