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The Price Paid for Perfection

We likely have all strived for it at one time or another in our lives, perfection. The need to ensure that we are perceived without any flaws or defects in ourselves, in our decisions and in our work ethic. Perfection as we know is a state, variously, of completeness, flawlessness, holding supreme excellence. Holding standards extremely high for yourself and those you lead. Your coworkers, your children, your family, your friends and those that surround you in life. Accepting nothing less.

It’s one thing to hold the standards high when they are achievable but it a complete other when you are stressing yourself and those around you on a learning curve loosing valuable time and opportunity striving to make it perfect.

As a young child I recall a time when I was learning to do the dishes. I was about 9 years old, my mother had just finished cooking and we were in the kitchen, there was greece everywhere on the pans in the sink and I was doing my best to clean each dish as I was taught. Standing there for a good hour my mother would throw the dishes from the strainer that I had cleaned back in the sink saying “clean them again” there not clean. Over and over, I would clean them with a soapy sponge and rinse them off nicely with warm water to have her return them to the sink and say do them again. Gaining more frustration as I could not understand what exactly was wrong with the dishes but wanting to make it perfect for my mother, they were clean. You see my mother was never truly satisfied in the outcome and often would find ways to make me do it over even if it was my best. Seeking for me to be perfect in every way sending me off to private Thacher Montessori schools to Woodward School an all-girl’s school. I later realized the harder I worked the little she acknowledged. What she did acknowledge was areas I could improve in that were not up to her standards. I was a kind sweet and a smart little girl, well behaved but according to my mother I was not perfect and she was going to send me to boarding school to ensure it happened. You see it wasn’t me. It was my mother’s beliefs in what I should be that deteriorated my self-esteem and confidence as a young girl that later took me years to rebuild and time in my life striving to be perfect.

When does perfection interfere with your life. Many of us are very ambitious about our goals but may be having difficulty getting over small mistakes which evidently leads to procrastination or the feeling of failure.

For many the price of perfectionism can be harmful. How do you know when perfectionism has reached this level? The key is to understand yourself and notice how you’re reacting to outcomes. What are the emotions you are feeling at that moment.

Perfectionism can strip away the emotional resilience a person needs to adapt to fluctuating demands in life leading to frustration, anger and later giving up on the goal entirely. Mental health challenges as those we see associated with drugs, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and suicidal thoughts are linked with perfectionism.

Social psychologist Thomas Curran explains in his talk the pressure to be perfect in our social media feeds, work, and at school can shows up in different ways: self-oriented perfectionism or an unrealistic expectation of perfection from one’s self, other-oriented perfectionism or the demand of perfection from others, and socially prescribed perfectionism or the feeling that others expect perfection from us.

In a perfectionistic world, anything less than flawless is dismissed as a failure. Petra Kolber, the author of The Perfection Detox: Tame Your Inner Critic, Live Bravely and Unleash Your Joy (2018) speaks about the thoughts that perfectionism breeds. “Perfectionists strive to be flawless, and they see their mistakes as a flaw in their character. It is not even they made a mistake; it is that they are the mistake.” Even the perfect moments have no joy because they have a standard set and are never quite perfect enough to reach that standard.

As a young girl arriving on the island of Nantucket when I began to spend summers in 1981 I viewed what I believed to be absolute perfection. From the moment I arrived on the island, to meeting our islanders to the cottages on Surfside or the Cliff House off Cliff Road where my parents would frequent, the people were kind, happy and simply enjoying life on their terms. It was what I remember as my happy place. The beauty, the kindness, the happiness, all dressed in their best providing the utmost experience the world had to offer.

To later in life witnessing the scientists that were striving to be their best, they had the ultimate education and experience but wanted to make a difference in the world trained to seek out the absolute best solution to a problem such as those seeking the cure and rid disease from the world. Frustrated when something does not go as planned.

Life is truly what you make it. How do you feel about being less than perfect? Well, Author Thomas Curran of the Perfection Trap, teaches psychology at the London School of Economics, thinks perfectionism is today's hidden epidemic. The Perfection Trap: Embracing the Power of Good Enough: Curran, Thomas: 9781982149536: Books

Our obsession with perfection continues to increase: A comprehensive study of perfectionism involving young adults in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada revealed that perfectionistic tendencies and behaviors have significantly risen.

The quality of perfectionism is not simply the irrational need for flawlessness, but the persistent sense of dissatisfaction in oneself even when success is achieved. Worse, it can deter success. Its known for instance, university professors with high levels of perfectionism rarely outperform their colleagues.

Growing evidence also suggests that perfectionism in the work place deters people’s ability to find meaning in their work, to experience the appreciation and satisfaction within their jobs, and cultivate the work life balance they need. Indeed, to thrive in today’s competitive and complex organizational world requires leaders to accept that excellent work does not mean it is without flaws. Rather, it is a developmental process, providing employees the space, time, and patience to improve. Being resilient in the process to make it happen but learning along the way in areas that did not go as planned on how to achieve the best result.

Perfectionism in Leadership

The most common perfectionism affecting leaders is their disposition to place high importance on others’ willingness to strive for perfection. These leaders demand the highest performance standards from others and they often evaluate their colleagues strictly. As a result, leaders with elevated perfectionism can destroy their relationships and ability to build trust and reputation in the workplace because of their tendency to provoke fear and to display anger and hostility especially when others fail to meet their expectations in performance. Later deteriorating productivity and performance in the workplace. When leaders display this type of perfectionism in their workforce its time to evaluate and recalibrate the expectations.

The following strategies are provided based on effective leadership strategies as well as our expertise on perfectionism across business leaders, offering an opportunity to help you manage your perfectionism.

1. Decide on the Right Goals.

Design goals to be attainable yet challenging for your team. This can support employees’ efficiency and sustain their motivation to succeed. For perfectionistic leaders, high performance expectations may be set for short-term projects that require maximum effort (e.g., solving problems, addressing crises situations).

Keep in mind that progress is more important than perfection. Initial successes in these goals can be leveraged to encourage the accomplishment of important tasks while sustaining their employees’ enthusiasm. Acknowledging and celebrating goals accomplished (even the smallest ones) can reinforce progress.

2. Accept there is no such thing as failure as part of the process.

Leaders should make a deliberate effort to recognize that mistakes happen and are an aspect of the work process. Failure is not part of the vocabulary. The team has not failed until they stop putting effort into the outcome. Asking your team what they can do better to get a different result is allowing them to make decisions in the process to lead to a successful outcome. Doing so would encourage them to grant their employees the ability to handle mistakes as learning opportunities and not failure. Listen to the words you use when communicating with your team and provide confidence as the words will provide the focus on the outcome.

Perfectionistic leaders must recognize that not being adaptable to areas that do not go well or as planned can provoke creativity in your team. Employees who are reprimanded for taking risks and making errors often focus on them, leading them to be too exhausted to produce insightful innovative work. Discover new ways of doing things. If you are doing the same thing it leads to the same result. Change is a part of success. The top companies are consistently changing how they define their success and innovating towards it.

3. Promote and Establish Mindfulness.

Mindfulness practices can be especially beneficial to perfectionistic leaders. It encourages self-compassion by preventing the development of critical thinking of self when their perfectionistic standards are compromised.

Mindfulness helps perfectionists slow down and regulate emotions and is an absolute must for outstanding leaders in today's world. You want to provide the confidence and certainty that the outcome can be achieved by your team. Research suggests that perfectionistic workers who use mindfulness techniques experienced less stress and negative emotions.

Incantations or mantras can help control perfectionism. A perfectionist leader can stop in their tracks and take three cleansing breaths and say to themselves:

There is no such thing as perfect in the world strive for the best result

Wanting to be perfect is exhausting, I no longer want to hold this stress.

Leaders with employees exhibiting perfectionism can support them by suggesting reaching out to a team member to work through some of the challenges they face in the project and by also communicating they can always reach out to you when they feel overwhelmed by a task. Remember, outstanding work is not achieved by one person overnight. Use the words that connect with you and create a mantra or incantation to use when the moment arrives.

Communicate the expectations clearly and allow your team to build trust with one another knowing each has their back. When a person in the team has not developed trust or is holding back from speaking based on a high expectancy of perfectionism in the leader it will hold back the productivity in your team.

4. Adopt Positive Collaborative Relationships.

Research demonstrates that support from peers obstructs the negative consequences of perfectionism and perfectionistic leaders with access to support from family and friends deal with stressful situations better due to advice and encouragement they receive.

In order to develop more positive experiences, perfectionists need to focus on providing empathy instead of competition and delivering unsolicited advice. Developing positive experiences with peers helps to reduce stress and anxiety that may arise from perfectionistic behaviors. This will further enhance to help individuals within the team see others as collaborators instead of competitors.

5. Manage Emotions. Create Confidence.

As I walked into one of my favorite storefronts on the island, the owner was inside, stressed at all the things that needed to be done and when one thing was out of line in the store it stressed her out. As each person entered the store, she projected this stress to her customers many leaving sooner than they walked in which ultimately led to less customers entering the store to visit.

Leaders who consistently demand perfection may unknowingly express anger, frustration and irritability. Remember you hold control in your team as the leader, when you do not have control of your emotions you lose that control in your team. Communicate high performance standards that are realistic in a sensitive and empathic manner with confidence that you trust your team members to follow through knowing your team will be successful. Believing in them and their capabilities.

When times of challenge arise, leaders can avoid losing control of their emotions by stepping back from the situation and reframing using a positive lens. For instance, when an employee falls short of their performance goals, a perfectionistic leader can ask themselves what is going well and highlight the new skill or knowledge and experience that the person has gained. Reframing performance in this manner can direct employees to focus on improving future performance.

When speaking with an employee that is falling short, I often use a system that works well with my clients. Ask yourself first, what is going well with this employee and opening the conversation with that to moving into what is falling short in the performance to closing the discussion with an area that you would like to encourage is going well this will build repour. Always leave the conversation on a good note.

Remember, there is no such thing as perfect in this world.

Intense competition and low tolerance for errors in modern workplaces have forced leaders to set exceedingly demanding performance standards. Leading to stress low productivity and losing out to opportunities for the future. The infatuation with perfection can derail engagement and satisfaction with a person’s work and life.

As a world-class coach many may believe I have a perfect life. That is not always the case. It’s being resilient in life to make it the one that is right for you. Setting high standards that are realistic. Holding true to oneself. Designing the life to one that is envisioned and being resilient to make it happen.

In life there is no such thing as perfect. If you know someone, please do share. We all would like to meet them. Remember you can’t go back in life, you can only move forward, learning from each experience, making it better the next time. As for failure, there is nothing final in life until we pass away.

One of the biggest regrets in life when people pass on is they never took the time to complete the goals they intended in life and realized time was over.

Don’t hold your standards for someone else’s approval to be perfect. Strive for the best without requiring perfection, it will lead you to your greater success.

Seeking to learn more on ways you can be an outstanding leader while also being more fulfilled in life, contact me, Michele Lee Occhipinti to develop the strategy that is right for you. I’ll be the guiding force to pull you through the challenges you foresee to your success. Navigating the changes along the way.

Be the best version of you.

Ack Professional International

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