Navigating Perfectionism in Leadership

211. Navigating Perfectionism in Leadership

About this Podcast

Ep. 211 – Do you need everything to be perfect before moving forward?

Perfectionism can be a powerful motivator for leaders, but it can also hinder productivity, creativity, and growth for both the leaders and their teams.

In this episode, Ramona delves into the impact of perfectionism on leaders and how it can create internal conflicts. She highlights the signs that indicate when perfectionism is becoming a roadblock and offers practical strategies to strike a balance between maintaining high standards and delivering results efficiently.

If you’ve ever felt hindered by the pursuit of flawlessness, this episode is a must-listen. Discover how to reframe your perspective on perfectionism and become a more effective, impactful leader as a result of it.

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Episode 211 Transcript:

0:00:00 Ramona Shaw: This episode is on the topic of perfectionism and specifically how that shows up for people in leadership positions. There are several symptoms or sort of behaviors that we can observe in leaders that may be indicators that the underlying root cause is this drive for perfectionism. And so this episode is about perfectionism, how it shows up and helping you identify those particular symptoms for yourself, but potentially also to help people on your team who might have a tendency to perfectionism.

0:00:32 Ramona Shaw: Here’s the question.

0:00:33 Ramona Shaw: How do you successfully transition into your first official leadership role, build the confidence and competence to lead your team successfully, and establish yourself as a respected and trusted leader across the organization? That’s the question, and this show provides the answers. Welcome to The Manager Track podcast. I’m your host, Ramona Shah, and I’m on a mission to create workplaces where work is not seen as a source of stress and dread, but as a source of contribution, connection, and fulfillment.

0:01:00 Ramona Shaw: And this transition starts with developing a new generation of leaders who know how to lead so everyone wins and grows. In the show, you learn how to think, communicate, and act as the confident and competent leader you know you can be.

0:01:16 Ramona Shaw: Welcome to this episode of the manager track podcast. As I said in the introduction, we’re going to talk about perfectionism and how that specifically shows up for people in leadership positions. Now, perfectionism is this tendency to, on one hand, set a really high bar for ourselves, but then on the other hand, also have a pretty tough self evaluation about our own performance. So we may criticize ourselves more so than other people would or do.

0:01:44 Ramona Shaw: And we also are concerns on how other people view us. And the combination of setting the high standards, being self critical, and being concerned with other people, all of that together has some really strong benefits to it. A lot of people would say, yeah, I think I got to where I am, and I am successful as I am because I have a tendency to perfectionism. I want things to be really good. I want them to be ideally perfect. That’s what I’m striving for. And there’s a lot of social reward that we get for delivering such good work.

0:02:20 Ramona Shaw: Now, on the other side, the word perfectionism also has a bit of a negative connotation to it or stigma that we associate with these behaviors, because we know there are inefficiencies built into it. And what I find in my work with leaders across the ranks, from brand new managers to very senior leaders, business owners, or people in the C suite, they get to a point at some point in their career. But most often I see this with, I want to say leaders in their thirties, forties maybe, where they’re really growing and expanding potentially in their career, but they’re also growing other aspects of their personal lives. They might be homeowners, they might have children, they might have parents they need to care for.

0:03:10 Ramona Shaw: They may have other things, time consuming hobbies or pursuits outside of work. And all of that added up together gets to the place and point in their lives where the perfectionistic tendencies that they had in the past and it worked for them, all of a sudden no longer work because there are too many things that they want to do perfectly. Can you try that one thing to do perfectly? Yeah, you can be fine going for that, do really good work. But when there are 510 things that you want to do perfectly, and when you start leading a team and your drive for these high standards and your self critical view then leads to other problems for your team.

0:03:56 Ramona Shaw: And really, as we’re focusing on perfectionism, I want to call out, what are the shadow sides for leaders and the things to pay attention to? And I’m not doubting at all that people have achieved great success through their perfectionistic tendencies. And at the end of the day, any behavior that we have, any tendencies that we have, any ways that we pride ourselves and reward ourselves, it is a question on how does this equation pan out?

0:04:29 Ramona Shaw: Are the benefits strong enough or big enough that you’re happy to compromise on the negative side, or you don’t even think there’s much of the negative there? Or are you seeing that your behaviors are actually creating very little benefits and a lot of negatives? And that is where we might have a blind spot, because other people start to see it way before we do. And so we have to continuously be questioning ourselves, be self reflective, solicit feedback in order to see what others see, and then also be willing to engage in behavioral change.

0:05:02 Ramona Shaw: And getting away or moving away from perfectionism can be a hard thing, can mean some behavioral change, can be a tricky thing to do. Is it possible? 100%. I strongly believe that every person who wants to change those behaviors and those patterns can absolutely change them. Within a perfect world, they always be a perfectionist. Yet that is also possible. Many people have this identity, maybe from a young age on that they are, they label themselves almost or have been for by others as a perfectionist, and that becomes part of their identity. So maybe we want to let it go or maybe you don’t. And in fact, I think there are people who are perfectionists, and they like it. They kind of wear it as a batch of honor. I am a perfectionist, and I love that about myself, especially if you’re a creative, it may really serve you. And the negative side effect of the perfectionism isn’t really present. So there are people who know that they’re perfectionism, they like it, people who don’t know that they’re perfectionists. So this episode might highlight some behaviors that we see in perfectionists and could be indicators that the person is a perfectionist.

0:06:16 Ramona Shaw: But most of the people that I work with, they know that they’re a perfectionist, and they don’t particularly like it. They don’t see it as an asset, but they also don’t really see it as a negative. Or that equation is still not bad enough. Where they would want to change, there is. Externally, they get it. They kind of like, yeah, I know, I have a problem with perfectionism, but internally, there’s still a really strong desire to be exactly that. There is still something inside of them that hangs onto it, so they don’t really want to change when it comes down to it.

0:06:51 Ramona Shaw: And then there are the people who know that they’re perfectionists and they feel the consequences. They recognize, I am feeling burnt out, I’m feeling drained, not doing well with leading my team. I can’t keep up, I can’t keep going. I can’t grow. I can’t scale beyond what I’m already doing because I don’t have any capacity. There’s nothing left. And that is usually the point in time where we’re becoming open, willing, ready, committed to changing.

0:07:21 Ramona Shaw: So now that we’ve sort of high level defined perfectionism, and also talked a little bit about how people recognize this, or how they may not recognize it, I want to talk in this episode about examples of behaviors that we see. And then two, what are some ways to build more self awareness, but also manage your perfectionism better, or maybe even get to the place where you start to reduce those tendencies, where they become less prominent.

0:07:51 Ramona Shaw: So, as you’re talking about behaviors that we identify, I listed four specific behaviors. There’s more to this, but for the sake of this podcast, I’m going to dive into these four. The first one is that leaders with perfectionism often have a hard time delegating tasks and may even fall into micromanaging tendencies. And the reason for that is the need for control to control the outcome again, because whatever has their name on it or that whatever comes out of their team has to meet this high standard.

0:08:29 Ramona Shaw: And if I delegate something to a team member who, you know, doesn’t do it exactly like I want it or not as well as I would like, and then goes out and shares that with the company or with other people or with a client that can feel really uncomfortable to a perfectionist. So what we then see is either they don’t delegate, they don’t delegate enough, or they ask to be included in the review process and they will really insert themselves into finalizing the product. They may have someone else get it to about 80% of what’s required, and then they take it on and bring it across the finishing line.

0:09:08 Ramona Shaw: Doesn’t sound so bad when we say it, but the problem with this is it’s really disempowering for team members. They feel like, I took ownership over this task, I gave it my best, and then my boss comes and makes it theirs. Now I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished it because at the end of the day, whatever was submitted to the client or internally or presented, that’s actually not mine anymore. It’s now my bosses. And that stinks.

0:09:39 Ramona Shaw: So it’s demotivating to the team. We’re to the point where they may not even try to make it good anymore, because they know at the end of the day, you’re going to change things up. You’re going to make it yours anyways, so why put in the effort? They put something together that’s good enough for you to work with, and then they know now you’re going to bring it across the finish line. So you’re going to create this dynamic with your team where they’re totally relying on you to making it great.

0:10:05 Ramona Shaw: They’re putting in less and less work, and you’re gonna have to do more and more. And it probably feels really frustrating to the leader, and in most cases, it feels really frustrating to the leader because they continue to be affirmed with this belief that no one else can do the work, no one else can ever manage them up. And in fact, you’re gonna always have to be the one who finishes up the work.

0:10:29 Ramona Shaw: But that is not because the team couldn’t raised the occasion, couldn’t learn to get there, but it’s because the leader is shutting that down and actually making it worse. Almost a self fulfilling prophecy that need for control, unable to trust other people, but also the real discomfort, the significant discomfort of seeing something go out or be presented that isn’t as perfect as you wanted it to be and as a leader. And if you want to be a great leader, you have to learn to be okay with this.

0:11:01 Ramona Shaw: Someone recently shared with me that they had some swag that they were preparing. And the team asked what this Wag should look like, and the leader recognized, you know, that is not something that I need to be involved in. I’m going to fully delegate that to a team member and that person should own it. And then once they saw the end result, they were like, yeah, I wouldn’t have done it that way. That does not look great. But they were proud of their own decision to let that go and say, you know what? No one else notices this. This is good enough. This is a one off thing.

0:11:33 Ramona Shaw: It has no negative consequences, but the person who created it probably felt like they could truly own it. And I just have to be okay with the product and outcome that I would have probably done differently myself. Again, when we have a small scope of responsibilities, we might say, hold on, but shouldn’t I have high standards on everything that I do? Sure, if you can do this on all the things that you’re involved in and you don’t have negative consequences, again, go for it.

0:12:02 Ramona Shaw: But the moment that you start to realize this is becoming inefficient or it’s really hurting me personally, that simply doesn’t work anymore. And so you have to get clear on where’s the perfectionism an asset and will help you move forward and where is it holding you back. And when it comes to work that your team should own that your team needs to learn to get better at that, has little to no risk involved, or is really actually presenting a great learning and growth opportunity for a team member.

0:12:35 Ramona Shaw: Yeah, you have to take a step back and just take your ego out of it and let that team member own it. So that’s number one. Number two is really honing in on details and losing sight of the bigger picture. And this is actually an interesting one because most perfectionists don’t recognize that, and they sometimes even defend them, saying, like, no, no, I can hold two things at the same time. I can go really into the details and I can also see the big picture.

0:13:02 Ramona Shaw: Yeah, might be true. I see this many times where people can absolutely go really deep and also be really high up. There are two problems, though, with this. One is there is a chance that we, while you’re in the details, you’re losing sight of the big picture. So you might focus on something. It’s really not that critical for the bigger picture. And while you’re involved in this, there’s always an opportunity cost. You’re not addressing something else that is way more important because you’re focused on the detail.

0:13:36 Ramona Shaw: So, yeah, what is the trade off. That’s one. And then the second problem with this is the perception that other people have of you. So many times in 360 assessments that I run for leaders, I hear comments from people that my clients work with that they need to learn to see the bigger picture, they need to be more focused on the bigger picture, and that there’s a concern that they don’t see the bigger picture.

0:14:00 Ramona Shaw: And the reason why they may think that is because they are actually seeing the leader constantly involved in the details or frequently involved in the details. And as they realize, hey, they’re talking about decisions or making things a problem. So then they assume the leader focus is way more on the details in the big picture. And hence the conclusion they’re not the strategic visionary leader that I think they should be or need to be in this particular role.

0:14:29 Ramona Shaw: As a caring and driven manager, I know you want to strengthen your leadership skills, advance your career and lead a high performing, engaged team. And in order to do that, as a leader, you need to lead with a system, not by shooting from your hips or reacting to everyone else around you. To do so, you need to first learn what should go into your leadership system and second, develop your own. But here’s the good news.

0:14:55 Ramona Shaw: I created a concise, actionable, and yet comprehensive course on one component of the leadership system. And this is about how how to successfully run one on one meetings with your direct reports. It includes over 67 minutes of tactical leadership training, plus a set of resources to make this as easy and immediately applicable for you as possible. You can get your hands on this course, which I want every single manager to have for a nominal dollar 19 at

0:15:24 Ramona Shaw: one. One that’s two times the number one. You can check the show notes for the details or head on over to Ramona 101 and get started right away. So that’s the second one. The third one is to set unrealistic goals and expectations for themselves or for their team, and most often actually for both. And generally speaking, setting big goals is not a problem, but it turns into a problem. And one we feel like we never really achieve anything and we’re never really good doing a good enough job. So our sense of satisfaction, our sense of success may internally be lower than it actually is. Other people see us perform way better than we evaluate ourselves. So our self assessment versus how others assess us is off.

0:16:15 Ramona Shaw: And then the second is, if I set unrealistic expectations for my team too, they may start to burn out. They may start to just not like working for you. And especially if the high expectations are constant. So there isn’t a cycle of, hey, we really got to push it. We really got to excel. We got to give it our all. And then there’s a time where we have a bit of a break. We can take things a little lighter. There’s more levity to it, but there’s more of the human connection that we really foster, and then we push again.

0:16:49 Ramona Shaw: But if it’s a constant push and constant stretch and more and more and more, and it’s never good enough. People who want to achieve and want to be successful and want to be rewarded and recognized and all that, that’s draining to them. If they don’t have that same perfectionism that the leader does or that maybe you have, they will not want to get on that ride with you. They’re like, okay, you do you.

0:17:14 Ramona Shaw: You can have your perfectionistic tendencies, but I don’t want to be part of it. I don’t enjoy this ride. Get me off of the bus. So that’s number three. Number four is procrastination or indecisiveness out of fear of failing or fear of not doing it good enough. And it may really be either not taking a risk, not putting yourself out there, not volunteering, or putting your name in the hat for an initiative or for a project that would be a bit of a stretch assignment, or that you don’t know the people, or you might not even get along with the people.

0:17:48 Ramona Shaw: But something that is seems a bit risky may just not be something a perfectionist wants to do. They want to make sure that they’re going to be successful and it’s going to look good. And if the odds are stacked against that, they may just not want to play the game. And another way that I see procrastination show up with leaders is that they may be assigned a project or a bigger project or an initiative, and they want to put so much work into it and think it through before they present anything to the rest of the group, to their peers, or to their manager. And because they want to have it already figured out and present something really good that first time around, they may do way more than is necessary.

0:18:33 Ramona Shaw: It will take them longer than what the rest of the group is hoping for. And then when they do get in the room, they could be that they’re either on the wrong track. So the manager may say, okay, but that’s not exactly what I was looking for. And I wished you had checked in with me before you built out this whole slide deck or this whole dashboard, because we could have prevented you doing work. That is not what I was looking for. Right, that’s one. Number two is that they may get into that room to present their already fleshed out idea, and they get feedback, you know, we don’t like this, or that doesn’t make sense to me.

0:19:09 Ramona Shaw: And then it may feel hard to take that feedback, because in your mind, you’ve already thought it through, you’ve already thought through all the different aspects, and you think, this is really the best possible solution. And then any feedback that you get may not feel like, oh, we’re creating something even better, because in your mind, this is already the best. The third situation is that people will see it and they feel a bit left out in the process.

0:19:38 Ramona Shaw: They wish they would have been considered before certain decisions have been made or before you went this far into the project or initiative. People want to contribute. They want to be part of it. And especially if you need to leverage informal authority, you need to get buy in, and you need to influence others, you need to involve them early on. You need to come with half baked ideas, you need to present something as a hypothesis, as an option, or you may even need to present multiple options that we could do this, this or that.

0:20:14 Ramona Shaw: What are you leaning into? Or this is my preferred option right now, but I’m curious to hear what you think we should do. That is what creates engagement and buy in and commitment from other people. So, again, recapping this, it may be that you’re going down the wrong path for way too long, which, if you had asked for help or for a check in earlier on with your half baked idea, you would have figured that out.

0:20:37 Ramona Shaw: That’s better for you and better for your manager. Second, you might have a hard time taking feedback. And three, you didn’t leverage the relationships and create a collaborative environment for other people to chime in and to contribute. When it comes to decisions, a hard thing for perfectionists may be that they have to make decisions that they know some people are not going to like, and the decision will get scrutinized.

0:21:04 Ramona Shaw: And again, because we want to do something perfect, we want to do it well. We want to, and we’re harsh on, and we’re concerned with other people’s evaluation of our work if we know this decision is going to upset half the people in the room. As a perfectionist, that seems like a pretty heavy task, something I’d rather not do. And I might continue to have conversations, continue to try to convince people that this idea that I’m pursuing is a good one.

0:21:32 Ramona Shaw: And I might just not make decisions when decisions are necessary or decisions are overdue and so prolong the process, become indecisive, not show good leadership. So these are some of the issues that we see or behaviors that we see with leaders who have perfectionistic tendencies. And then as a result of that, and we all probably know this, as a result of that, the negative sides of perfectionism are decreased productivity because we’re wasting time. There’s like a time necessary to make it good enough, and then there’s some wasted time to make it perfect because then the additional benefit is so marginal, so decreased productivity and efficiency, strained relationships with team members, demotivation, increased stress and burnout for you and others, as well as missed opportunities that you might be pursuing. If you have the bigger picture in mind, don’t get wrapped up into the details or opportunities that come your way that have some risk associated with it that you’re unwilling to take because of perfectionistic tendencies. Now let’s talk about some strategies to identify the tendencies and mitigate them.

0:22:40 Ramona Shaw: The first one is to recognize when does this show up? And for many people, the thing that works best is to reflect either at the end of the day or at the end of the week, what was work that I did that wasn’t actually necessary, or where was perfectionism really driving me? And start to build a list. Don’t yet try to change a thing. Just start to build a bit of a tap, like, yeah. Here are all the different areas where I see this. It happens when I need to present to senior leadership.

0:23:14 Ramona Shaw: It happens when I have to delegate complicated or complex work to a team member. It happens when we have a client meeting or it happens when emails go out. The client, you get the point. There’s a long list where it could show up, what is the list where it shows up the most for you? So collect that list. That would be step one. Step two is to distinguish progress from that desired end result of perfection.

0:23:43 Ramona Shaw: And I would actually say to hone in on your internal compass of what is good enough and what is great, like a perfect result. So ahead of time before you engage in a task to decide, okay, good enough would be XYZ perfect. Like I’d like it to be would be ABC. So what is the difference between good enough and perfect? That will be a little bit of a guideline for you as you engage with the task. Now, ideally, we’d want to stop at good enough, right? So we said this is good enough, and then we’re going to be disciplined enough to not try to make it into this perfect end result.

0:24:28 Ramona Shaw: You might find yourself still leaning into it and still tweaking some things, but at least now you’re aware I’m giving in to my perfectionism. That is all building awareness when it happens, but also for you to develop a bit of that compass. It could be that when you delegate work and your team members send something back to you instead of you editing it, you might say to yourself, me editing it would be perfectionism. What I’m going to do instead, if I see that there’s stuff missing, I’m going to ask them questions about what could you incorporate in order to be more concrete about this particular problem? Or how could you make this more readable for the audience, or how are you addressing the risks of this project in the presentation?

0:25:16 Ramona Shaw: And so I’m going to ask them question to probe, and then once they get and flush this out, I’m just going to leave it at they have talking points. They are covering it. I’m not going to go into the detail on how they’re going to cover it. So that might be an internal, again, compass. That’s number two. Number three is to embrace the discomfort. Just lean into the fact that, yep, I do not like this and I really have the urge to go fix it and I’m not gonna.

0:25:44 Ramona Shaw: And this is like any behavioral change. We find ourselves in these situations like, ah, I really want to, but we realize it’s not helping me. It’s very short sighted. If I’m gonna jump into this, because in the long term, I know all the negative side effects of this. Disempowering my team, burning myself out, becoming more stressed, wasting time and productivity for myself and my team members, and the list goes on.

0:26:10 Ramona Shaw: So embracing the discomfort. And then the fourth one is to really look at anything that is suboptimal in your mind as a learning opportunity. There’s nothing there that’s bad. Including what you produce and including what your team members produce. Either your lesson learned is, oh, actually, man, I would have spent four more hours on this, but I realized this was plenty. This was totally good enough and everyone liked it. Okay, mental note, great opportunity to learn this when it’s about your team, and they may stumble a little bit because now you’re not the one bringing it across the finish line. So they’re having a bit of a hard time learning opportunity.

0:26:53 Ramona Shaw: Great. We’re moving in the right direction where you’re struggling a little bit and it’s hard, but you’re going to get better as a result of that. And the same is true with those half baked ideas or those early drafts of a proposal that you want to run by someone to say what I. Here’s what I’m suggesting. Here’s where I want to go, or here’s what I’m thinking about doing with this. Is this in alignment with what you’re thinking?

0:27:18 Ramona Shaw: The thing that you don’t want to do is to do something half baked or present an early draft and then ask your manager, your boss, hey, this is what I’m thinking. What should I do next? That’s also not the, that’s not going to fly, and it’s not the point. The idea is not to present something and then ask them to finish it for you. The idea is to lay out your plan, what you’re intend to do before you do it, and make sure you get buy in engagement from others or collaboration, or at least a head not, yes, you’re going in the right direction before you execute.

0:27:56 Ramona Shaw: And sometimes, as I’m saying these things, I have, like, the gut instinct to also make sure I’m being really crystal clear. This is not a hard rule where every person all the time has to do it this way. You have to assess for yourself. When is it a time where you’re gonna do something totally independently? Take full on ownership. Your boss says, go do x, and you gotta do x until x is done. And then you bought back boss, x is done.

0:28:22 Ramona Shaw: That is the best Way in many situations. And then the best way in many other situations is to say, okay, thank you. Let me do an early draft and run it by you to make sure we’re on the same page. Then you come back and say, here’s what I’m thinking. Here’s. Or here are the three options. My preferred option is one, but I want to make sure you And I are on the same page before I proceed. This isn’t ONE or the other.

0:28:44 Ramona Shaw: You have to figure out when to use which strategy. Okay, so that is a little bit about perfectionism and how that shows up in leadership. And as I said in the beginning, some people really love that they’re perfectionists, and they don’t see any problems with it or very little of a negative side effect. Other people kind of agree that it’s not good, but internally still aren’t willing to let go. I see this often, and then others are so over it and they realize this is really. I can no longer do this. This worked until I was a director or a vp, and now I just can’t keep up, so I have to drop and shed some of that weight and let things be good enough.

0:29:26 Ramona Shaw: And if you’re in that camp and you might find this a really difficult transition, know that it’s totally possible and I encourage you to keep going, and I hope this episode was helpful to you. If you want support through this process, then check out the show notes and schedule a strategy call with me to talk about different options and how I or we at Arkova can support you with this. Thanks so much for tuning in, and as always, if you have colleagues, friends, co workers, partners who would benefit from this, please pass it along. That would mean a lot to me.

0:29:55 Ramona Shaw: And with that, I’ll see you next week. Another episode of Dementia track podcast. Bye for now.

0:30:01 Ramona Shaw: If you enjoyed this episode, then check out two other awesome resources to help you become a leader people love to work with. This includes my best selling book, the Confident, incompetent new manager, which you can find on Amazon book, and a free training on how to successfully lead as a new manager. You can check it masterclass these resources and a couple more you’ll find in the show notes down below.


  1. Can you identify any perfectionistic tendencies you have as a leader? If so, what are the specific behaviors or thought patterns you notice?
  2. How might your perfectionistic tendencies be impacting your productivity, efficiency, or ability to delegate and empower your team?
  3. Do you struggle with procrastination or indecisiveness due to a fear of failing or not doing something perfectly? How does this hold you back as a leader?


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