Is being a perfectionist a bonus in business? Bev James considers…

As a coach and business mentor I am blessed to work with very different types of people, from those who take a leap of faith and jump right in to those who need to have everything as perfect as possible before they even begin.

I admire people who have high standards and work towards perfection. Checking every detail, wanting everything to be ‘right’ and avoiding mistakes has many benefits. Owning a perfectly designed computer or driving a car where every detail has been carefully considered is a pleasure – but there are perils lurking beneath the surface of perfectionism too. An important difficulty in business is that perfectionism can also lead to procrastination.

Not everyone recognizes that they have perfectionist traits. I once asked a client if she would consider herself a perfectionist. There was a long silence before she answered with a confident “No”. I then asked her, “If you were a perfectionist what % do you think would you would be?” There was a long pause before she replied, “97%!” We both laughed as her answer showed a brilliant example of someone who felt that, “If it is not 100%, then it not perfect”.

“For many people perfectionism is about striving to be faultless and wanting to become the best they can be.”

Wanting to be faultless can be linked to being fearful – to fear of criticism, fear of making a mistake, fear of not being good enough. All of these traits can get in your way.

Do you find that you are making excuses not to try something because you like to get things right first time? Do you tell yourself that you can’t let something go because your standards are too high? If so, your perfectionism has turned to procrastination.

Do you frequently feel that you don’t have the confidence to start something because of lack of perceived experience, knowledge or data? Perhaps that website can’t go live unless its 100% perfect; or the business plan can’t be finished because you don’t have time? Has perfectionism ever led to you ‘missing the boat’?

I once met someone who had spent her life savings of £240,000 on developing a software system. She spent so long perfecting the packaging and website that the technology had moved on and her system had become obsolete before by the time she launched it.

“Every choice you make – from actions and reactions to promises and excuses – provides clues to where your motivation and priorities lie.”

If you ask yourself, ‘What is stopping me getting started (or finished)?’ your reply will probably be one or more of the following:

‘I feel overwhelmed by the scale of the work involved.’

‘I don’t have the skills or knowledge to achieve it.’

‘I have a self-limiting belief about my ability to achieve it.’

A question invites you to make excuses, or tell a story. So, instead of asking yourself a question, make a positive statement instead:

‘I would do it now if …’

‘I had a clearer goal.’

‘I had some expert help.’

‘I had confidence in myself’

A decision to ‘do something’ leads to action. A decision to ‘think about it’ leads towards a delay. An approach that I use with success with my clients is to challenge them to either ‘Do it!’ or ‘Ditch it’ – but to make a decision. Remember that deciding not to decide is also a decision.

Do it! – Ask yourself how much you really want to achieve your goal. Know why you do what you do, and what you most enjoy about it. It’s not enough to plan to achieve it; you need to really desire the outcome.

Do it! – Plan ahead: What are you trying to achieve, and by when? Pour your belief into a plan and include a timeframe for achieving your goals. Deadlines help to beat the perfection trap.

Do it! – Develop self-belief. Belief is what keeps you going when you are knocked back or when you are tired. If you have a habit of putting yourself down or thinking pessimistic thoughts, it is time to start focusing consciously on the positive.

Do it! – ‘Get real’ about your strengths and weaknesses. Ask yourself: What new behaviours do you need to ‘DO’ each and every day that will reinforce your motivation and take you closer to achieving it? What do you need to ‘DITCH’ that is undermining your success?

Do it! – Learn the art of delegation. Perfectionists may try to accomplish too many tasks on their own. If you find that you tend to Do rather than Delegate, focus on learning to let go of non-essential tasks that will slow you down.

Ditch it! – Don’t expect delegation to be comfortable. Perfection is linked to a need for control. If you keep your eye on the big picture and the end goal, it will help to strengthen your resolve and gain the patience to allow others to sometimes learn the hard way.

Ditch it! – Don’t ‘should’; always ‘will’. Dwelling on ‘what could have been’ or feeling guilty will hold you back. Ditch the ‘shoulds’; ask yourself ‘why’ you will succeed – and get ready to Do It!

Many things in life, and in business, are a work-in-progress that improve over time and in collaboration – so if your desire to be perfect is getting in the way of you delivering results – be honest with yourself, and get what you have done out there anyway.

“Perfect is great to have – and sometimes it’s important – but many times in business ‘good’ is good enough to get you started.”

This article is published with permission.


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