4 Reasons to Actively Support Your Perfectionists

Are you a big picture thinker who’s just kind of ‘meh’ about the specifics? Are you a leader who subscribes to the “done is better than perfect” philosophy? Do you thrive on building the plane as you fly it? Are you someone who is all about experimenting and shifting gears as you go along?

If so, awesome! Because today’s episode of The Survivor's Guide to Thriving Podcast is specifically for you!

Because today, I want to talk to you about me! Well, not me exactly but rather, people like me. 

  • Detail people.
  • Self-described perfectionists.
  • People with high standards for exactly how things should look, sound, feel and get done.
  • Those of us who cling to rules and systems and processes like a life-preserver. 

In our workplaces, there will always be a mix of both big picture thinkers and nuts and bolts executers, as well as all sorts of people in between. It's not always easy, but by being purposeful in how we lead this diversity of styles, we can avoid prevent problems that might otherwise come from the differences.

Today, I want to give you a peak behind the curtain into the world of your detail folks and share why, especially as a leader and teammate who has a different working style, I believe it’s so important to pay attention to and actively support this type of employee.

 A Quick Note... 

First things first, I want to make something really clear: despite the fact that I’m one of the many people who would self-describe as a perfectionist, I don’t necessarily see it as a gift – for myself or my clients. Perfectionism is a lot of pressure, or as Brene Brown would say perfectionism is the 20-ton shield we wear to protect against shame, failure, and judgement. The goal here is not to say, “Perfectionism is an awesome thing! Let’s celebrate it!” but rather to uncover why it's important to lead and support your team members in a way that supports the creation of high-quality work, but without feeling as though perfection is the only option.

And another note: just because a person cares about detail or is really strict about processes and procedures, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re also a perfectionist. In my experience though (both for myself and coaching people who are a lot like me), there tends to be a correlation!

So, if you’ve got someone on your team who’s like me, here’s why they need your active support and leadership:

#1: Your perfectionists are susceptible to burnout.

While it’s not always the case, perfectionists can often be really high performers. These are the folks that embrace “hustle” like it’s going out of style. They might have been the class valedictorian, star athlete, graduated college with honors, rose through the ranks of the company quickly. As a leader, you’re probably sitting here going, “This is AWESOME!” And it is…to a point.

But what you’ll learn about these types of high performers is that the hustle isn’t necessarily coming from a place of simple work ethic or desire to excellent – it’s what Brene Brown would call “hustling for worthiness.” If we work hard enough, succeed often enough, and avoid failure at every turn, I will be seen as worthy of success in the eyes of my team, my customers, my boss, my family and on and on. Any sign of laziness or failure? Nope, not worthy.

But what happens when we hustle for worthiness for too many years and in too many areas of life is, we eventually run out of steam.

And that employee you thought was such a rockstar? They leave. They ask for something with less responsibility. They draw boundaries that seem out of character. 

If you’re a leader who cares about sustainable success (not just short-term wins) and employee retention, don’t take your high-performing perfectionists for granted.

#2: Perfectionists are terrible at advocating for themselves.

Perfectionists tend to tell themselves: “If I ask for what I need, I might hurt your feelings or disappoint you.”

If I say that I need more flexible hours so that I can get to my kids’ sports game, I’m letting the team down.

If I tell you that I feel really uncertain with what I’m supposed to be doing, I’m afraid you’ll think I don’t know what I’m doing.

If I tell you that I need feedback delivered a different way, I’m afraid you’ll think I’m saying you’re a bad manager.

And so, we don’t advocate for ourselves and our needs as often as we should. Instead, we smile. We nod. And we hustle while bottling up our feelings inside.

For leaders, it’s important to be attuned to this because not advocating for yourself long-term can also lead to burnout. It also leads creates retention problems because high performers may leave to get what they need somewhere else, because they're too scared to simply ask for it.

#3: Perfectionists can be very risk avoidant.

In business, taking calculated risks is critical for growth – both for your individual team members and financially speaking. But for many, perfectionism is strongly accompanied with a fear of failure and risk avoidance.

I don’t call on that prospect or ask for the sale, because what if I don’t do it perfectly right and I screw up the relationship?

I don’t put out my idea in a meeting, because what if they think it’s stupid?

I don’t put my name in the hat for that promotion because I only meet 8 of the 10 qualifications on the job description.

If your perfectionists don’t feel safe to try and fail – which you will have to model and verbalize if they’re going to feel even a little bit comfortable with it – their success will always be just a little bit limited.

#4: Perfectionism can turn into an attitude problem.

Here’s a little secret for you: I didn’t want to share this one. Sure, perfectionism can lead to burnout or not advocating for yourself or avoiding risks...but this one? This is the dark underbelly of perfectionism.

When perfectionism runs amok, it can turn into a serious attitude problem that is a challenge for managers and teammates alike. 

Because, you see, we perfectionists don’t only have high expectations for ourselves – we’ve got them for everyone else too. And when you’re not meeting our expectations or standards…watch out. 

Are we proud of this tendency? Nope. Would we rather not feel disappointed and frustrated all the time? You bet. And, yet…instincts are sometimes hard to bust. 

So, if you’re a leader who cares about your team being cohesive and working well together, it behooves you to find a way to manage your team members expectations and strive for clarity, understanding, and getting on the same page about what’s realistic – in order to avoid conflict down the road.

The Take-Home Message

These team members with such high expectations and standards of excellence can be such a wonderful asset to your organization. They turn your dreams into reality. They catch things that might otherwise fall through the cracks. They care about delivering excellent client service. They can take good work and turn it into great work. 

But we also can’t take them for granted.

So if you have a perfectionist on your team and reading or listening to this is making you go, "Whoa! I need to support them more/differently!", first off – awesome! Secondly, I made you a free cheat sheet with 4 approaches you can use to help your perfectionist grow and thrive. Grab it by clicking on the image below!



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