Navigating Perfectionism as a New Manager

Navigating Perfectionism

Navigating Perfectionism as a New Manager

Let’s be honest: Perfectionism has its perks. For many of us, it drives us to excel, produce awesome work, or even land that coveted promotion. But as we transition from individual contributors (ICs) to leaders, a nagging question emerges: Is the relentless pursuit of flawless results the best recipe for team success?
Imagine getting a report back from your new boss, full of grammatical corrections, rephrasing, design edits, and more. It quickly becomes clear that your new boss is a perfectionist, and all of a sudden, you feel like you just got an “F” on your high school English paper.
Fast forward. Now you’re the leader, and it’s quite clear that all that time you spent doubling down on creating superb work now has you leaning into your own perfectionist tendencies. They have served you well, but are those same tactics going to empower your team or stifle their growth?
As a new manager, the drive for perfectionism can feel like a virtuous asset. We want to lead by example, deliver high-quality work, and earn the respect of our team and peers. But true leadership is about more than just impeccable results.
Perfectionism has a darker side that can undermine our effectiveness as a leader, harming not just our team but also ourselves in the process.
Perfectionistic tendencies have helped many leaders achieve great success. The desire to meet high standards and do excellent work is commendable. For new managers, perfectionism can fuel our motivation to master our new role. Let’s face it: our tendency to lean towards doing things perfectly is what helped us get to where we are, right?
However, failing to take the shadowy side of perfectionism into consideration, will leave us with a massive blind spot, unable to see what our team, and even our upper leadership, sees.
The consequences of being a perfectionist tend to show up as:
  • Feeling burnt out and drained
  • Being defensive and having strong reactions to criticism
  • Inability to scale and grow
While burnout and lack of growth are very real feelings, it can be difficult to mitigate them if the behaviors that cause them aren’t addressed first. So, let’s explore the specific behaviors that perfectionism can cause.

Perfectionistic Behavior #1: Unable to Delegate/Micromanaging

What happens: Perfectionistic managers struggle to relinquish control over tasks and trust their teams to meet the high bar. Even when they do delegate, they ask to be included in the review process and may even take it back on when it reaches about 80% of what’s required to get it across the finish line themselves.
Why it happens: This typically stems from the fact we feel like whatever has our name on it or whatever comes from our team/department needs to be perfect and meet our highest standards of excellence. As a perfectionistic manager, it can be extremely uncomfortable for us to share work externally that isn’t perfect.
Why it’s a problem: This disempowers employees and creates resentment. It can even get to the point where our team doesn’t even try anymore because they know that at the end of the day, we are going to step in and get it done. It ultimately results in less effort being put in by the team and creates more reliance on us as the manager, further fueling our thoughts that if we want something done right, we should just do it ourselves, perpetuating the cycle.
What to do instead: If you find yourself in this situation, ask yourself, “Do the benefits of letting this task go fully and trusting my team outweigh the negative impact I’d have if I took this back over or inserted myself? What’s the worst that can happen if I let my team perform to their fullest potential?” If you choose to let your perfectionistic tendencies take over, the negative side effects are disempowering your team, burning yourself out, becoming more stressed and wasting time and productivity for yourself and your team members. But chances are that if you lean into letting go, you will free up your time and reduce your stress. Even if the project isn’t executed exactly the way you would have done it, your team feels more empowered and has engaged in a great growth opportunity.
For more tips on this, check out the following episodes of The Manager Track podcast:
Episode 53 – How Not To Micromanage

Perfectionistic Behavior #2: Focusing on the Details and Losing Sight of the Bigger Picture

What happens: As perfectionistic managers, we are constantly involved in the nitty-gritty details of things, perhaps even decisions that are outside our area of expertise. We forget about the bigger vision that the team needs to move forward, ultimately leading to missed opportunities.
Why it happens: As experts in our field, we may be the best people to weigh in on all decisions all the time, but that doesn’t mean we should. We have to set our egos aside and let our team perform to their greatest potential.
Why it’s a problem: Being too focused on details that are not critical to the bigger picture can create an opportunity cost. We’re not addressing something else that is way more important because we’re focused on the details. For example, instead of letting our marketing team finalize the new marketing brochure, we’re involved in the minute details and caught up in it so much that we just happen to miss catching our boss ahead of an upcoming leadership meeting to give them a heads up on an idea you intend to present. And guess what? Your boss was not pleased by hearing about it for the first time in the leadership meeting with all their peers and boss.
What to do instead: If you want to use your expertise to weigh in on something, do so as a teachable moment to guide your team and help them grow in their career. Ask them to provide you with 3 variations of a specific portion of the project if time allows, and give your feedback on which one you think is best and why. This will help them start to understand what type of results you expect and the specific things you look for in a finished product.
For more tips on this, check out the following episodes of The Manager Track podcast:
Episode 213 – Executive Mindset

Perfectionistic Behavior #3: Setting Unrealistic Goals and Expectations for Yourself and Your Team

Raising the bar to an unattainable level burns out both the manager and the team constantly striving for perfection.
What happens: Setting goals so lofty that the team feels like they never really achieve what was expected or that they’re never really doing a good enough job.
Why it happens: This can happen when our internal sense of success is lower than our actual level of success.
Why it’s a problem: Other people see us perform way better than the way we assess our own performance. This can lead to burnout because there is always a constant level of performance expectations instead of a rhythmic ebb and flow. The even bigger problem is when our team gets burned out because of the unrealistic expectations we’ve placed on them. They may even get to a point where they just don’t like working for us. Generally speaking, people want to play games they know they can win. If they feel like they are constantly losing, not only will they get drained, but they won’t want to play anymore.
What to do instead: Include your team in the decision-making process of setting goals when possible. If they can’t be part of the decision-making process early on, include them in the discussions on how to achieve the goals and let them decide what role they can play so that everyone feels their contribution is important. When setting goals for yourself, focus on accomplishing the smaller “input” goals that add up to the loftier overall goal.
For more tips on this, check out the following episodes of The Manager Track podcast:
Episode 49 – Dealing With Failure

Perfectionistic Behavior #4: Procrastination/Indecisiveness

What happens: Perfectionism can cause us to put things off until the timing feels “100% right.” It can also cause us to never try something because we are afraid of failing at it.
Why it happens: This happens because as perfectionists, we feel like we need to have everything figured out and prepared 100% before making a decision or proceeding. The phrase “proper planning prevents poor performance” becomes our crutch, and we justify inaction because we overthink every little thing.
Why it’s a problem: This is a problem because it causes the team to get behind and could result in a massive lack of momentum. Overall, the cumulative effect is decreased productivity, strained relationships, demotivation, increased stress, and missed opportunities.
What to do instead: When presenting decisions, use phrases like, “This is my preferred option/ solution right now, but I’m curious to hear what you think we should do” or “I’m leaning in this direction, but would love if you could let me know if I’m on the right path.” Create a collaborative environment for other people to chime in and contribute so that instead of feeling like your decisions will be scrutinized, you’ve received input along the way.
For more tips on this, check out the following episodes of The Manager Track podcast:

5 Strategies to Identify Perfectionistic Tendencies and Mitigate them:

Here are some action steps you can take to identify perfectionistic tendencies and mitigate them:
1. Build self-awareness by tracking when perfectionistic tendencies arise.
2. Distinguish between a “good enough” and “perfect” result for each task.
3. Embrace the discomfort of allowing things to be imperfect.
4. View “suboptimal” outcomes as learning opportunities, not failures.
5. Involve your team early for buy-in rather than perfecting ideas alone.
The key is to leverage perfectionism as a motivating force when it is truly beneficial while letting go of counterproductive perfectionistic behaviors. As new managers, we need to empower our team, focus on the big picture, and enable growth through continuous learning from imperfect attempts.
While perfectionism can sharpen our leadership skills, it can also hold us and our team back. It’s important to strive for excellence while staying aware of the line between healthy standards and an unhealthy obsession with perfection.
For more tips on this, check out the following episodes of The Manager Track podcast:
Episode 83 – Having High Standards
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