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Perfectionism: A Curse or a Gift?

Leadership and perfectionism

Perfectionistic people have gained a bad reputation over the last few years

We all know these examples: the boss who always seems to demand the impossible, or the colleague who insists on discussing every single detail, regardless of its importance to the job in hand.

Perfectionism is a two-edged sword

A recent BBC article ( reviewed current research on perfectionistic people and confirmed that a lot depends on the focus of the perfectionistic behaviour.

Different types of perfectionism exist

For example, “self-oriented perfectionists” tend to set very high standards for themselves, whilst “other-oriented perfectionists” will often set impossibly high performance standards from those around them. There are also “socially prescribed perfectionists” whose self-image is frequently tied to their being perfect all the time and thus making impossible demands of themselves. Whilst the last two types of perfectionists tend to have a negative impact on themselves and others, the ”self-oriented” perfectionists can turn out to be solid leaders and managers: it’s all about getting the dose of perfectionistic behaviours just right.

Leadership et profil perfectionnisme

Example of a circumplex of a perfectionnist profile

It so happens that the Human Synergistics® suite of management and leadership profiles measures all three types of perfectionistic behaviours. This leadership profile is a good example of a participant showing a high Perfectionistic leadership style (the 10 o’clock style). But her Achievement score is even higher (at 11 o’clock). This points to her having an even higher pragmatic focus on achieving excellent, but not necessarily perfect results.

Her coach saw that she was indeed able when necessary to back off and accept “best possible in the circumstances” both from herself and others, rather than “it must be perfect”. Although she had other issues to work on to continue her development as a leader, she was managing her perfectionism in a positive way.

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