The 5 key points Harold makes are:

1. Keep everything in proper perspective
2. Imperfection is human
3. Need somebody
4. Tell people what you're up to
5. Find a ruthlessly compassionate partner

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YouTube link: How to Escape Perfectionism | Ask Harold, Episode 19

Ask Harold Episode 19 Transcript:

Today I’ll answer a question from a viewer who struggles with being a perfectionist and the problems it creates back at work.

Hi everybody, Harold Hillman here. And thank you for joining me on episode 19 of Ask Harold. Today’s question is from Scott who struggles with being a perfectionist. He recently got feedback on a leadership survey that he needs to stop controlling everything. Sound familiar? It’s one of the most common leadership dilemmas to manage, so it makes for a great topic.

Here’s what Scott writes:

Hello Harold,

I’m in my early 40ies and I’ve been a team leader and manager or over 15 years. I’ve taken a few 360 surveys about how I can improve my leadership including one recently, where the feedback was consistent with what I already know: I don’t let people help me enough.

It’s no surprise, I’ve known that most of my life, but it seems to cause me more problems in the workplace, especially as a manager. I like things done to a certain standard so I find it difficult to take my hands off the controls, especially around very important things we have to deliver.

Before I have to take another 360 survey that will undoubtedly tell me the same thing about being a perfectionist, what can I do to make some progress with this?

Thanks for your help,


Thanks for that question, Scott, you’re not alone with this wonderful challenge that is far more common than you may think. I’ve walked in your shoes a few times myself.

Now here are 5 things that I’ll ask you to think about:

1. The first is: keep everything in proper perspective. If ever there was a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water, it’s after a 360 leadership survey where you can fall into the trap of focusing on what you are NOT doing well. You’ll end up like a dog chasing its tail.

Those things that we used to call weaknesses are really, most of the time, our strengths played to excess. Don’t think of strengths and weaknesses as separate things: they’re usually connected. The fact that you have high standards and value high-quality output is a strength. What it looks like when you’re under stress is the real focal point. Be sure to keep those things that make you an effective leader in proper perspective.

2. Secondly: imperfection is human. The other part of that is: perfection is unhuman. The beautiful thing about being human is that we have aspiration to do better, and to be better. And then equally beautiful thing about being human is that we almost always hit turbulence and obstacles and setbacks as we strive to deliver the best. That’s how we grow. You don’t grow through having a perfect life – you grow through an imperfect life. So if you’re a team leader, adjust your attitude about whether getting THE perfect outcome, every time, is worth the chance of losing people along the way.

If you always need everything to be absolutely perfect, people will start to wonder whether they can open up as imperfect people around you.

3. Thirdly, and importantly: need somebody. That’s really the essence of being an effective team leader. People come to work each day to make a difference and to contribute in a way that feels like they’ve helped the team be successful or the business grow. If you have to be a perfect manager, that means that you don’t really need anyone to help you think, or to work through a problem.

Perfect people don’t need help from other people, so they never ask others for advice, or drop in to worry out loud about something that’s bothering them, where other people feel that they are helping you be successful and can share in your success.

If your definition of failure is that you didn’t come up with the answer yourself, it’s going to be impossible for you to need somebody else’s help.

4. Fourth thing: tell people what you’re up to. Sometimes you have to be explicit about the changes that you’re trying to make in your leadership style only because people often have you locked in a certain frame. If you’re too subtle about changes that you need to make, people often won’t see them. So after a 360 survey, sit with your team and tell them what you learned and what you are going to be doing differently as a result. They are more likely to see it and appreciate your effort, which was based on their input to you. If you act on their feedback, this will send a powerful message to the team that you are comfortable with imperfection and that you need them to be successful.

5. Finally: find a ruthlessly compassionate partner. This is a term that Peter Senge used in the book “The Fifth Discipline”. This is someone at work who you trust to be honest and candid with you; who you know has your back and is genuinely trying to help you. They can signal to you in subtle ways when your strengths start to get played to excess, giving you an opportunity to dial things back in the moment. That’s how you close the self-awareness gap: find a ruthlessly compassionate partner at work.

Thanks for that question, Scott, and thank you all for watching this episode of Ask Harold. Next week I’ll answer a question from a viewer who is trying to work out whether she has to leave her company to grow. Even though she would LOVE to stay. That’s a great topic, so please tune in to hear more.

And remember: if you liked this video, tell others about it and subscribe to Sigmoid’s YouTube channel. And if you have a question of your own, or want to see my other videos and articles, go to my blog at www.drharoldhillman.com

Take good care and see you all soon.