The Leaders’ Guide to Perfection

While some thought leaders claim that sustained business success depends on bold innovators, many caution against celebrity CEOs. Some boards prefer turning to CEOs who are by-the-numbers type personalities, who excel at cutting costs, culling non-performers from the pack, and implementing the right processes and systems.

On the other hand…these leaders may be relying on strategies that affirm their sense of purpose—a strategy that helps them solve and avoid problems, while providing motivation and comfort. Which approach is better for leading your company?

It all depends.

Most people I work with agree that leaders with a passion for excellence, quality and accomplishment benefit their organizations. These qualities place leaders at the top of their fields. But while ostensibly committed to doing what’s best, perfectionists have tightly controlled definitions of what best means.

Perfectionistic leaders commonly insist that tasks be completed their way, with adherence to narrow windows of acceptable norms. They frustrate their people, burden them with extreme expectations and cause resentment. A leader’s desire to do the right thing leads to a rigidly controlled, distrusting and unaccepting culture that smothers people into submission. Fortunately, there are ways to understand and deal with perfectionism while maintaining excellence and productivity.

In my work as a coach, I have seen an increase in perfectionistic leaders, and it’s no wonder: researchers have found that perfectionism is on the rise:

Perfectionism has increased substantially among young people over the past 30 years, with no regard for gender or culture. It manifests itself in three domains: self-oriented perfectionism, or imposing an unrealistic desire to be perfect on oneself; other-oriented perfectionism, or imposing unrealistic standards of perfection on others; and socially-prescribed perfectionism, or perceiving unrealistic expectations of perfection from others. The underlying reasons for the trend are not fully understood, but greater academic and professional competition are implicated, along with the pervasive presence of social media.~ Psychology Today

Perfectionists believe they have a keen mind for what works (and what doesn’t). They assess optimal methods and outcomes, endeavoring to implement them—a fine goal, as long as leaders avoid obsession.

By definition, an obsession is a dominant, persistent focus on a thought or feeling that overrules all others. Obsessions take leaders down ineffective paths, where they’re blinded into believing that effectiveness is possible only when absolute perfection is achieved. The cycle then escalates: the more leaders focus on efficacy, the greater their need for perfection.

What do you think? Are you seeing an increase in perfectionism? You can call me at 704-827-4474; let’s talk. And as always, I can be reached here, or on LinkedIn.

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