I used to get so frustrated as a recruiter when I asked the question “What are your weaknesses?” in an interview and I would get the response “I’m a perfectionist.” It seemed to me to be a way to state a “weakness” when in reality striving for perfection, I thought, was a characteristic that is desired in the working world and in fact classified as a strength.
I’d turn around and probe the applicant in a way that made them tell me what bad behaviors or results arose because of their perfectionism. Most people just stared at me after asking this question. I wanted to say, “Now give me an answer to this question that isn’t canned!”
But, now I’m beginning to believe perfectionism truly is a weakness. Here’s why:
Perfectionism leads to paralysis. In other words, decisions aren’t made because of perfectionism.
The inability to make decisions leads to stuff not getting done. Number 23 in the article 30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself, states “#23. Stop trying to make things perfect. – The real world doesn’t reward perfectionists, it rewards people who get things done.
When stuff doesn’t get done, the organization can’t meet customer needs and can’t move forward. You can’t vision for the future and think strategically when you are always trying to make things perfect.
Perfectionism in the extreme sense is really is just another word for neurotic. If you know a true perfectionist, then you know what I mean. One client engagement I had last year was to improve their hiring practices in order to improve organizational results. After performing an analysis, it was obvious that we needed to implement some type of screening that tested for neurosis. Low performers were exhibiting this characteristic over and over and it was often described as “perfectionism”.
Learning doesn’t occur when things are perfect. We often learn more from our failures than our successes, which drives continuous improvement. And continuous improvement does move people and organizations forward.
Quite frankly, perfect is boring. And it is never going to happen.
So if you want to drive results and strategic thinking in your organization, stop telling your people that they need to deliver “perfect”. Tell them instead they need to be better today than they were yesterday- striving for continuous improvement. A little bit better today than yesterday is a lot better than being paralyzed today because yesterday wasn’t perfect.