The Olympics are starting this week, one of my favorite sports to watch is figure skating. When I think about this beautiful exhibition of athletics and grace, the phrase that comes into my mind is “Who will have a Perfect 10?” The skaters have worked their entire life for this experience, and it all comes down to moments during the competition. We applaud the Perfect 10, but the 9.7, 9.5, and 9.2 are just as memorable. Perfection is measured and appreciated long after the Olympics are over, but those that do not win may feel as though their lifetime efforts are not remembered or recognized.

Getting a Perfect 10 on the ice warrants a gold medal, but it stamps the expectation in our mind that to be successful, recognized, and achieve, we must be perfect.

What is perfectionism?

According to Psychology Today, “Perfectionism is a trait that makes life an endless report card on accomplishments or looks.  When healthy, it can be self-motivating and drive you to overcome adversity and achieve success. When unhealthy, it can be a fast and enduring track to unhappiness.”

Consider the athletes who make it to the Olympics and Paralympics, just “showing up” is a monumental feat that only a tiny percentage of the world population ever achieve.

Perfectionism may prevent us from being vulnerable. I recently participated in an interview, and a leader provided this insight. He said “The candidate did not give us any items that she could improve on in any of her previous roles. This could be an issue if she is not comfortable with being imperfect and working to improve. This indicates a lack of vulnerability and self-awareness.”

This comment reminded me of a quote from Brené Brown, six-time New York Times #1 bestselling author and Huffington Foundation Endowed Chair at the University of Houston. “The difficult thing is that vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you, and the last thing I’m willing to show you. In you, it is courage and daring. In me, it’s weakness.”

We all make mistakes; we all have something to work on…the learning never stops.

Perfectionism can keep us from starting something or showing up. I will never be able to…so why start?

According to Jen Sincero, A New York Times #1 bestselling author of the book You Are a Badass,  “Perfectionism and procrastination have such a fine line. You say, ‘Well, I want it to be good. I want it to be perfect.’ But what you are really doing is not doing your work. You’re putting off showing up and being visible because then you’re going to be judged, and it might suck.”

This quote struck a chord. I have been working on a book for six years, it is a personal story, and a voice in my head says, “it isn’t quite right!” The sure sign of perfectionism! Instead of sharing an experience that could be of service, it must score a Perfect 10 before I release it into the world for review or feedback. Who does this impact? Me and any potential readers! Trying, taking a step, and just “showing up” is a monumental feat. We were not meant to stand in our own way.

Where does perfectionism keep you from showing up?

How does perfectionism impact business?

Organizations desire employees who want to be their best, those who keep learning, and growing. But sending a message that implies the need to be “perfect,” may create fear of failure and stall progress. Reflect on your organization and consider, “How do you respond to mistakes?” You might say, it depends! True, it depends on the impact. Things happen, and a leader must proactively consider what their response will be. First, seek to understand context, why did the employee do what they did? This reinforces teamwork and provides the employee an opportunity to share their decision-making process and feel respected and valued.

When a mistake occurs, examine if you were specific and detailed in your communication. If the answer is no or “sort of,” the employee may need clarification, or training to get on track. If the employee was given specific procedures, expectations, and performance metrics to follow and they did not, a performance improvement or coaching plan may be appropriate.

To set expectations, minimize mixed messages, set employees up for success, and get results, consider these points.

Analyze each role and create a detailed job description. Outline specific responsibilities and identify the performance standards and metrics for each duty. There are areas of the business and job duties where a Perfect 10 is desired and required, i.e., ensuring workplace safety, following accounting procedures, protecting assets, etc. If a duty has “non-negotiable” metrics, clearly communicate these in the description and to the employee, i.e., maintain customer confidentiality, 100% of the time.

Other duties may be more general and give the employee an opportunity to function as a leader and be strategic, creative, and solution oriented. These are typically duties where personal style and skill affect the outcome, i.e., conducting a follow-up call to a customer, coaching an employee, managing a department to achieve results, creating a process, learning a new skill, etc. Exhibiting a “bronze medal performance” in these areas may highlight a win to be applauded

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” –  Vince Lombardi