I’ve experienced highly diligent/perfectionists a few times lately. The phrase “perfectionist” seems to carry a negative connotation with it; however, “perfectionism”, “diligence” shows up in varying degrees with varying benefits and drawbacks. Those we tend to characterize as “perfectionists” tend to have extremely high expectations and standards for themselves and subsequently believe that those expectations and standards should be shared and adhered to by others. Perfectionists, or those who are highly diligent, are meticulous, detail oriented, thorough and they adhere to established rules and procedures regardless of what or who would suggest otherwise. The flip side is, the expectations and standards may overlook other contextual realities and place undue burden and frustration on the individual when others (or even they) don’t meet "expectations".
There’s obviously strengths and weaknesses associated with this trait, as well as the multitude of others, that are the result of our experiences, educations, beliefs, etc. The hope is that we, as leaders and influencers, will take the time to deepen our self-awareness and accept our strengths and weaknesses, leveraging the former and minimizing the later to have a positive impact on the world around us.
Daniels & Price (2000) refer to perfectionists as "ones" in the Enneagram vernacular. Perfectionists are focused on personal integrity and can be wise and discerning. They also tend to dissociate themselves from their flaws or what they believe are flaws (such as negative emotions) and can become hypercritical of others.
Hewitt & Flett (1991) devised another "multidimensional perfectionism scale" that defines three forms of perfectionism:
- Self-oriented – high expectations for self
- Other oriented – high expectations for others
- Social prescribed – high expectations from others (parents, etc.)
Each of these are characterized by very high standards and expectations. A negative consequence associated with high diligence is often a degree of inflexibility and the potential for missed opportunities due to being lost in the weeds. Perfectionists may be viewed by others as controlling and overly critical expecting others to follow their lead and meet their expectations without exception.
The plus side to perfectionism is a strong orientation to details, focus and follow through. The first two types will have a strong self-esteem associated with assertiveness, while the socially prescribed may be overly self-critical and insecure.
Determining where you fall on the scale of perfectionism and how it influences your behavior and decision making is an important step to improved leadership effectiveness. Take the free Perfectionism Test to assess your tendency toward perfectionism. Then consider the following if you wish to mitigate the negative aspects associated with this construct.
1. Recognize Perfectionism. Some people may not even realize that they are perfectionists. They may be telling themselves that they just have high standards and strive for excellence. However, there’s a difference between excellence and perfectionism.
2. Learn How to Take Criticism. Critical feedback in and of itself is not an attack on your person or value. Learn to accept the feedback and evaluate its merit and methods to improve upon it.
3. Recognize the Difference Between Healthy Striving and Perfectionism. healthy striving is about honoring yourself by endeavoring to achieve your full potential. Perfectionism is about dishonoring yourself by telling yourself that there are certain things that you need to achieve before you’re “enough”.
4. Set Realistic Goals. Realistic goals are just out of your reach. They require you to stretch some, but allow the likelihood of success. Once you reach your realistic goal, set another goal that’s just a little farther off. Keep going in this way and you’ll soon realize that you’ve made a lot of progress.
5. Identify the “Must-Haves” and the “Nice-to-Haves”. When prioritizing your efforts, separating your must haves, those big rocks that you want to achieve from the unimportant, non-urgent things is critical to achieving your overall objectives – stay out of the weeds.
6. Re-evaluate Your Standards. A challenge for perfectionists is setting standards that are too high. Consider what's good enough in certain situations. Not all tasks must be completed at the same level of diligence to achieve the desired outcome. Instead of aiming for what you consider to be 100%, consider what's necessary in light of other objectives, perhaps 90% of completion is actually all that is required. Then, analyze what happened: Was your boss upset because a project wasn’t good enough? Did someone complain? Was the client disappointed? Are there any negative consequences?
If the answer to these is NO, then consider taking aim at 80% and so on.
7. Try New Things. Perfectionists have a tremendous fear of making mistakes. And all this does is hold them back. After all, making mistakes is how we grow. In addition, being able to tolerate mistakes is a vital component of innovation and risk taking. Write a blog, go to a networking event, join Toast Masters, etc.
8. Move Away from Anything that Reinforces Your Perfectionist Tendencies. Move away from all of the stimuli that reinforces your perfectionist tendencies:
Don't compare. Stop reading material that make you feel like a failure. Reduce social media activity, its a false representation of the "perfect" life of others. Choose your friends wisely.
Read material that empowers you. Surround yourself with people who accept you as you are and encourage to be even better. Follow people on social media that inspire and motivate you.
9. Accept that You’ll Never Be Finished.
10. Enjoy the Ride. Perfectionists keep their eyes firmly focused on the destination. That’s often all that matters to them. In fact, they can be so focused on the destination, that they may fail to enjoy the ride.
The “destination” for example would be the proper nourishment accomplished through eating, yet it’s the experience of eating that allows the enjoyment of drink, tastes, conversation, laughter, etc. Don’t overlook the journey for the destination.
For those “perfectionists” reading this – God Bless You! For without you, tires would fall off of cars, planes would fall from the sky, disease would run rampant and bills would go unpaid. Value the strengths that your diligence affords you, all the while remembering the value of other perspectives and the strengths that other personality traits bring to the table – even if they’re different from yours.