Perfectionism vs. Professionalism – Embracing a Professionalism Mindset
My five-year-old daughter is already prone to controlling everything she can (what can I say, she gets it from her mama). Over the holidays, I had a front-row seat to watch her efforts to control the world around her, ranging from what the family was allowed to watch to where a new set of bunk beds should be configured in a room that isn’t hers. One exchange with her little brother captured my attention:
“No, that’s not how you do it. You have to do it this way, or you can’t play with me.” [continued chatter back-and-forth] “Mom, he isn’t playing with me the right way.” (Read – “He isn’t playing with me my way.”)
As much as I don’t like to envision 20 years from now, my curly-haired girl will likely show up as an even bigger version of the one I have today. Her assertiveness, decisiveness, and goal-focused nature will undoubtedly earn her a few early promotions out of an individual contributor role and into leading team members. And there, she may struggle for a bit.
Ok, fair. I’m talking about me too. Whenever I see my favorite little lady, I can’t help but think of myself. She’s essentially my blonde clone. I told my husband she has all my great and not-so-great qualities too. She’ll almost certainly gravitate toward leadership roles later in life because, at five years young, she’s already starting to lead.
Not playing “my” way is harmless on the playground and devastating in the workplace. I spent many early years trying to control team members into playing my way through micromanagement and perfectionism. I attempted to control what wasn’t mine and hurt my early teams.
Everything changed for me the day my mentor taught me to apply a professional, not perfectionist, standard. She said, “If everyone would agree that it’s professional, then it’s great to move forward, even if it isn’t the way you would do it.” I’m unsure why her words struck me so profoundly on that day, but I’ve lived and breathed by that statement ever since. At first, watching “professional” products go out the door was tough, especially when they weren’t the way I would have done them. Today, I take immense joy in watching others bring their visions to life and feel gratitude that I don’t have to do everything and be everywhere. Perfectionism is often the toughest on the perfection-seeker.
I’ll spend the next few decades helping my daughter to inspire more and control less. Perhaps she’ll even appreciate professionalism v. perfectionism at a much younger age than I did. For those of you who share in our struggles, here are three helpful tips for embracing a “professionalism” mindset:
- Let Go. Practice “letting go” with low-stakes projects: There are projects that don’t move the needle much and ones that can implode the entire organization with one screw-up. As you transition from perfectionism to professionalism, practice “letting go” on low-stakes projects. Select a project that could be bombed entirely and still not make or break much of anything. Practice empowering your team to take the lead on that project, providing the vision and left-and-right guidance for the work, and then genuinely letting it go. If the end product meets a professional standard, push it out the door as is. That’s right, not a single change by you. If you can get good at “letting go” on low-stakes projects, it becomes easier to “let go” when the stakes get more prominent. Like exercising any new muscle, start on the low weight and add to it with practice.
- Remind Yourself. “My way isn’t the only way”: I had a misconception in my early days of leading that my way was the only way to accomplish something. In hindsight, I can’t believe what a short-sighted view that was; the world is full of great ideas, and mine are rarely the best ones. Remind yourself that your way isn’t the only way; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. The more you engage your team in thinking up new ideas and allowing them to execute them, the better off everyone will be.
- Find You. Figure out what you’re truly responsible for when you stop micromanaging others: One of the most challenging parts of ridding yourself of a perfectionistic tendency is figuring out what you’ll do when you stop controlling everyone else. I meet many leaders who struggle to transition into their “new” roles and responsibilities once they let go of their old ones. Use the time you would have spent micromanaging to dream up what’s next for you. I promise, whatever it is, it will be bigger and better.