Oct 092014

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Dr. Earl R. Smith II


Self-knowledge is the crucial component of self-improvement. How can you improve what you don’t understand? Of course, the other side of that coin is ‘what you don’t understand can cause you great harm.


The Perfectionist: During a recent coaching engagement, I came to realize that a CEO I was working with had a tendency to accentuate the negative. She was heavily committed to building her first successful business – driven to the point of almost maniacal focus on correcting the mistakes of her team. Her behavior was corroding the enthusiasm of her team. I decided to arrange a one-on-one session focused on her management style.

We began with a discussion of her almost constant criticism of her team. Nothing seemed good enough – everything needed improvement. When I pointed out this tendency, she responded, “I guess I am just a perfectionist”. I had heard this justification before. “A perfectionist is someone who does things perfectly – and that starts with themselves. There is a difference between a perfectionist and an anarchist,” I offered. My statement took her aback and she struggled to find a way to maintain here self-image as a ‘perfectionist’. However, we had been working together for some time and she knew that I was having none of it.

If you were fulfilling your role to perfection, there would be much less friction and resentment among your team members”, I said. We had just finished an all-hands off-site during which some of that friction and resulting frustration had surfaced. It was clear that she had never really stopped to connect those kinds of results with her vision of herself as a ‘perfectionist’.

As we talked, I suggested that there were two areas which she ought to think about. The first was her tendency to correct team members – often in public – without full knowledge of the situation. The second was a tendency to focus on criticism and seldom offer praise or reinforcement. The questions I put to her was, “would a perfect perfectionist act in ways which generate these results? Or are you just insisting on perfection from your team and not from yourself?

By the end of the first session, it was clear that she had a lot to think through. I suggested that she put aside some quiet time. She began keeping a journal of her thinking about the ‘perfectionist’ and the tendencies that were holding both her and her company back. We reconvened after a week.

As we set to work, the focus was on the second tendency – in fact, on her almost complete avoidance of complementing the efforts of team members. As she thought about it, I suggested that she was probably compensating for insecurity. My suggestion was that she had come to believe that her authority derived from delivery of criticism and was undermined by openly recognizing good work.

I then added a second suggestion – she thought that her complete control – dominance of any situation – was critical maintaining her authority and that trusting her team members to act on their own initiative was risking her position as team leader.

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