Perfectionism is not excellence
I am a perfectionist,” says Tanya, a 35-year-old second-generation chief financial officer of their retail family business down south. “I grew up in a tradition with a bias towards males, so I worked to prove myself to everyone. I got a scholarship in a top university in Manila, and graduated with honors.
“My father has announced to the clan that I, not my brother, will be his successor in five years.”
“Well done!” I say. “I am glad your dad chose you based on merit.”
“The problem is,” Tanya takes a deep breath, “ever since then, I have not been performing well. I am getting sick and making lots of stupid mistakes. I missed a commercial opportunity, depriving us of a good profit. Then I froze at a decision because I was scared of the risks. This is not me at all.
“I blew up at our manager for making careless errors. He said it was hard to please me because I wanted everything done perfectly. I told him that I trained him for a year so I have high expectations and he should not take things personally. He is still in a funk now.
“I have the right to criticize him! We treat him very well, with great salary and good benefits. Millennials today are so sensitive—they cannot take any negative evaluation.”
“You are a millennial also,” I remind Tanya.
“I can take criticisms,” Tanya says. “My father is hard on me. He expects a lot and I always deliver.”
“Until recently, as I told you. I don’t know what’s happening to me but I have to up my game. I have to work longer and harder to avoid mistakes.”
“But you are getting sick!”
“My grandfather founded the business and my father made it grow. I get nightmares that I will ruin the business and destroy the family reputation.”
“Working hard is not really the problem,” I say. “Many leaders work hard, but they do it for the right reasons.”
“If I don’t work hard, I will screw up. I will let my family down.”
I quote from organizational coach Brene Brown’s book “Dare to Lead”: “Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval. Most perfectionists grew up being praised for achievement and performance (grades … rule following, people pleasing …). Along the way, they adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect. Prove.’”
“What’s wrong with making your family proud?” Tanya says.
“On the surface, nothing,” I say. “But if making others happy is your only aim, you begin, as you say, fouling up. Brene Brown again: ‘Perfectionism is not the key to success. In fact, research shows that perfectionism hampers achievement. Perfectionism is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction and life paralysis, or missed opportunities [and] the fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations and being criticized.’”
“Instead of perfectionism, focus on healthy striving. Brene Brown says healthy striving focuses on the self: How can I improve? Perfectionism focuses on others: What will they think?”
“I am so stressed out,” Tanya says. “I don’t think I can lead the company in the future.”
“I still believe you are a good successor,” I say, “but if you keep on being a perfectionist, you will ruin your health, your sanity, your relationships with others. You are not superwoman. No one is. Have an honest chat with your father. Be humble and ask for guidance if needed.”
“What about our managers?”
“Make your expectations of other people realistic and clear,” I say. “Ensure they are equipped to succeed. Does your manager understand the targets? Does he have resources to meet them? Are the timelines doable? If things are clear, trust that your people can do well.
“Take care of yourself. You have already proven your worth to your family. What about yourself?”
Queena N. Lee-Chua is with the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” at www.lazada.com.ph or call National’s Jennie Garcia at 0915-421-2276. Contact the author at [email protected]
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