We meet many perfectionists in the course of our work. A lot of these are in managerial and leadership positions, which is of course no surprise as perfectionism often goes hand in hand with a strong need for achievement both at work and in one’s personal life.
Perfectionism can be defined as a tendency for being dissatisfied with anything that is not perceived as perfect or does not meet the person’s extremely high standards. Of course, perfectionism is a subjective state as one person’s idea of perfection might differ significantly from another’s. The costs of being a perfectionist are typically very high, not just to the leader personally, but also for their team and/or organisation.
Some of the typical risks we see in our work with leaders include:
Team and Organisational:
Perfectionism rarely, if ever, helps leaders engage with their followers positively or creates enduring value for their organisation or personal relationships. Admittedly, it can help in certain technical roles and in ensuring a leader maintains a high level of functional expertise, but there are very few examples I can think of where it has helped a leader achieve greatness among followers. The exception that springs to mind is the late Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder and CEO, although most of us would agree that he was not an exemplar of great people leadership, often undermining, berating and negatively stretching his staff in the pursuit of perfection.
James Brook, Director, Strengths Partnership Ltd
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Negativity bias is everywhere. It is all around us as it is a human predisposition to look for the negatives in everything we see; the risk, the downside, the problem, the reason it won’t work.
Once upon a time this human trait really helped us in our lives; for instance to protect ourselves from animal attacks when we lived in caves. Nowadays, it can still help us, but only some of the time.
Because of this trait, we focus on the negative things that happen for longer and more deeply than we do on the positive. “It is not broken so why fix it?” is a classic example.
Think about it, from the moment we are born…
“Don’t spill the milk, don’t fall over, don’t colour outside the lines”
Then we go to school…
“Don’t run, don’t put your bag on your shoulder”
We eventually go to work and we are told to work on our development needs instead…
“You need to work on your presentation skills, develop your gravitas and be more concise”
Only this is really being told what not to do in a more politically correct or respectful way. Some of this feedback probably has value, however, it misses the valuable and important contributions that we could be making if we got some input on what makes us different and unique, but in a positive way.
Have you thought of changing your approach?*
Imagine you were told at work that a pitch to a client was outstanding because you really understood their brief? You spoke to them not at them, you listened to what they had to say and you seemed really relaxed, like it almost came naturally, somehow. Clear, specific, evidence based, strengths-focused feedback, is something that will definitely develop a positive culture in your organisation and lay the foundations for high performance culture.
So what can you do to develop more of a positivity bias than negativity bias?
1. Look for the positives
Look for the learning and the positive in all events that happen to you, no matter how good or how bad. Spend time deeply considering these so that you can help your brain to get used to the idea of exploring and nurturing positive, rather than over thinking and focusing on the negative.
2. Try strengths spotting in others
Notice what other people do really well and tell them, using examples and explaining the difference they make using those qualities. The benefit is two fold – you are helping others to connect with the positive and you are doing it too.
3. Extract all the goodness from good things that happen
Don’t just see the positive moment and quickly move away from it onto the next goal. Instead, spend time in the moment, enjoying the good thing that’s happening and encoding it deeply into your memory.
*For more on this, there’s a great TED Talk by Shawn Achor, titled Happy Secret to Better Work
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