By Frieda Levycky – Founder and Director of Braving Boundaries

Perfectionism – We’ve all encountered it at some point in our professional lives. Whether you’ve struggled under someone else’s unrealistic standards that stifle growth and leave no room for mistakes, or you’ve been the leader who couldn’t let go and delegate, one thing is clear: perfectionism is unattainable.

I’ve seen firsthand how leaders, driven by perfectionism, often micromanage their teams, adding unnecessary stress and ultimately creating a toxic work environment. On the other hand, I’ve seen how fostering excellence encourages innovation, collaboration and a healthier, more productive work environment. That’s why I’m sharing my insights on this important topic. What are the key differences between perfectionism and excellence? What are the telltale signs of a perfectionist leader? How does perfectionism impact teams? How can leaders promote growth and excellence within their businesses? Keep reading to find out.

Defining Perfectionism vs. Excellence

Key differences between perfectionism and excellence

You might think that perfectionism and excellence are similar, but they are fundamentally different in approach and impact. Perfectionism in leadership is driven by a need to meet unattainable standards, leaving no room for mistakes or growth. It often results in:

  • Micromanagement: A perfectionist leader struggles to trust their team, often overseeing every detail and task, which can suppress employees’ creativity and innovation.
  • Inability to Delegate: This stems from a need for control, where leaders find it challenging to entrust tasks to others, fearing the outcome won’t meet their high standards.
  • Excessive Control: When leaders feel “out of control” due to delegating tasks, it signals underlying perfectionism. This constant need for control can create a stressful and unproductive environment.

Excellence, on the other hand, focuses on achieving high yet realistic standards. It values continuous improvement, effort and progress rather than flawlessness. Leaders who promote excellence encourage innovation and collaboration, creating a supportive environment where team members feel safe to take risks and learn from their mistakes. This approach fosters a positive, dynamic work culture that enhances productivity and morale.

Signs of a perfectionist leader

A telltale sign of a perfectionist leader is an overemphasis on minor details and an insistence on doing things “the right way,” which often translates to “their way.” They may be reluctant to acknowledge and celebrate small wins, focusing instead on what could have been done better. Such leaders are often highly critical and quick to point out flaws while rarely offering positive feedback. Additionally, they might set unrealistic deadlines and expectations, pushing their team to the brink in pursuit of perfection. This can create an environment where employees feel undervalued and perpetually anxious about meeting unattainable standards.

The harmful impact of perfectionism on teams

Perfectionism can have a detrimental impact on teams, creating an environment of constant pressure and stress. Team members may feel anxious and overwhelmed by the unrealistic expectations set by a perfectionist leader, leading to burnout and decreased morale. This fear of making mistakes slowly but surely kills creativity and innovation, as employees become hesitant to take risks or suggest new ideas. The lack of positive reinforcement and recognition for their efforts can result in feelings of underappreciation and resentment. Over time, the team’s productivity and cohesion suffer, because the focus on flawlessness erodes trust and collaboration.

Strategies for leaders to foster excellence in their teams

I think I’ve fixated on perfectionism enough for one day, don’t you? Let’s switch our focus to its healthier, more sustainable counterpart… Excellence.

Leaders can promote excellence within their businesses by fostering a supportive and empowering work environment. Here’s how:

  • Set Clear, Realistic Expectations: Establish challenging, yet attainable goals. This approach encourages continuous improvement without the paralysing fear of failure.
  • Emphasise Effort and Progress: Highlight the importance of effort and progress over perfection. Celebrate small wins and milestones to keep morale high and motivation strong.
  • Encourage Open Communication:Create an atmosphere where team members feel comfortable voicing their ideas, questions and concerns without fear of judgment. This can be achieved through regular check-ins, team meetings and encouraging continuous feedback through collaboration platforms.
  • Provide Opportunities for Professional Development:Offer training programmes, workshops and mentorship opportunities to help employees enhance their skills and advance in their careers.

Cultivate a Culture of Excellence

Understanding the difference between perfectionism and excellence is the key to effective leadership. By focusing on achievable high standards and continuous improvement, leaders can create a positive and productive work environment.

As you reflect on the points shared in this blog, think about how you can encourage excellence within your team. Are you committed to nurturing teams that thrive on openness, innovation and collaboration? Reach out today to explore how we can help your team achieve excellence through improved communication and leadership strategies.