In interview books they tell you to say, being a perfectionist is your biggest weakness. The response is so engrained in people, and has become such a cliché, that now it just gets shrugged off. But, what if you actually are a perfectionist? All you perfectionists, please virtually raise your hand. If you could see me at the time of writing this, you would see that my hand is up.
As far back as I can remember I’ve been a perfectionist. I’ve set very high standards for myself, have always strived to produce excellent work, and do an amazing job at anything I set my mind to. I decided to write this article, because two colleagues recently told me that I am known as a perfectionist. If I’m known as a perfectionist, I figure I might as well blog about it. In my experience being a perfectionist is a strength in the workplace, however it can sometimes be a double edge sword. With that said, I have some tips for effectively leveraging perfectionism at work, and a few trappings to avoid.
- The importance of completing projects on time. Perfectionists can slide to either side of the spectrum on this one. I’m a deadline and project oriented person, so I will stay up late or work weekends if that’s what it takes to finish a project to timely completion. At the same time, I’m very deliberate when agreeing to a specific deadline or new project, because if I say I’ll have something done, I will. However, I’ve seen deadlines as a challenge for some perfectionists, as they continue to tinker with a project or plan, and it never get’s finished because it’s never perfect. Which brings us to our next point.
- Strive for progress not perfection. This relates to all areas of life, not just work. For example, I’ve been following Wheat Belly for a few months, and people often tell me, I can’t do that, because I can’t cut out xyz. Or, I would do that if I didn’t have to eat xyz. The reason I’ve been able to adhere to this plan is because I’m focused on improving my lifestyle and not obsessed about following it 100% to the letter (or absolute perfection). If you are trying to change your approach to anything, be it customer communication, making cold calls, or your eating, in my opinion it’s better to make improvements, than excuses. Realize, that there will always be corner cases or scenarios where something will not work, or when you will not be stick to it. And, that these one-offs are no excuse not to try to improve or change. I follow about 90% of the Wheat Belly book, focusing on the most important principles, and allow myself some wiggle room. And, guess what, I feel much better. So, you have to ask yourself would your rather make improvements, or be stalled without progress?
- Try not to take criticism personally. My last post discusses criticism and compliments. Try not to view criticism of your work as a personal attack, and try not to let setbacks make you feel like a failure. Determine if criticism is valid and if so, what steps you can take to improve, or if criticism was unwarranted, or misguided when it makes sense to brush it off, and move on.
- Realize most people are not perfectionists. Try not to cringe if you see people throw things over the wall with what you view as lackluster quality or follow-through. In general it’s best to limit your suggestions, or revisions for projects you are directly involved with, where people have asked for your feedback, or if the work will negatively harm your business. Perfectionists can walk a fine line of being a leader and helping colleagues, and being viewed as a meddler into others work. If in doubt, trust that a person’s manager is responsible for spot-checking their work output.
- Embrace it. Being a perfectionist can be a great thing! You likely produce amazing work, dazzle your colleagues with your high attention to detail, and are constantly focused on improving yourself.
In closing, this post does not answer the question, what’s your biggest weakness? Because, I think in most cases perfectionism can be a huge strength, and who wants to give a cliché, answer anyways.
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