Perfectionism Breeds Micromanagement, Excellence Fosters Leadership

Thursday, June 7, 2018

There is a difference between excellence and perfection. Excel-lence allows you to excel, while still giving you the freedom to grow, develop, and enjoy the process. Perfection is an unattainable goal that takes the joy out of the talents we have been given, the skills we have learned, and the jobs we have acquired.

Over the years, I have talked with thousands of people about their careers. When I asked what type of manager they like, no one has ever said that they wanted a perfectionist. However, when I asked what type of a manager they avoid, approximately 75-80 percent have responded immediately with “micromanager.” (By the way, the perfectionist in me wants to give you an exact statistic, but the excellence-seeker in me says you get my point.)

I admit that I have been a recovering perfectionist. I like everything done just so. Yet, I also know the inherent dangers in this—frustrating staff who are trying hard to do a great job, offering little to no praise, generating fatigue and burnout—not to mention missing the forest (strategic needs) for the trees (every tiny detail of a project). The more intense these tendencies become, the more likely it is that you are on the road to becoming a micromanager. It becomes even worse when people praise you for a perfect project, as this can drive you to repeat this process over and over again.


I personally began to change not because I wanted to let go of perfectionism; I was loving that. Instead, I started the process of letting go when I realized that my potential for harm was greater than my potential for good. If you are not sure why I say that, read the paragraph above again and consider the work that you do. As talent development professionals and leaders, we ultimately want to motivate, appreciate, and retain our employees, not to mention that we want to stay focused on strategic priorities.

If you are a perfectionist, what can you do to get on the road to recovery? The answer is focus on excellence. Excellence allows you to bring out the best in yourself, your people, and your company. It looks toward the greatest strategic needs and makes progress at the right time with the right priorities. Your staff can still produce quality work while enjoying the journey with you. Longer term, you will see reduced burnout and increased job satisfaction.

Need quick inspiration to get the ball rolling toward excellence (or to resist the temptation to check your work a tenth time)? Ponder this quote from Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I would like to update this for today’s talent development leaders: “Employees may forget what you did, but they will never forget that you inspired them to succeed.”

Need some excellence ideas? You may want to start by reviewing “Perfectionism v. Excellence” by March Winn; “Pursuing Excellence, Not Perfection” by Barbara Markway, PhD; or “Excellence v. Perfection: The Leadership Conundrum.” Now, take a deep breath. You can do this!

About the Author

Rianne Rome, MBA, SHRM-SCP, Chief Talent Development Officer, JK Moving/CapRelo.

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