Eight Ways to Overcome Perfectionism

perfectionI was recently working with one of my executive clients on the area of perfectionism. She talked about the standards she places on herself; feeling inadequate if she makes one mistake, mulling over it for days as the uneasiness builds.  This is an area I know all too well. I’ve struggled with perfectionism throughout my life, and have often wasted a great deal of time and energy striving to create the perfect business plan, the perfect presentation, or even the perfect gourmet dinner for friends.  The list goes on!

So why do so many high-achieving, successful leaders beat themselves up over small, inconsequential mistakes? Why are we striving so hard to be perfect?

The truth is, people who are challenged by perfectionism usually don’t think they’re perfect. More often than not, they fear what people will think if they find out how imperfect they really are. Many perfectionists struggle with living up to their own internal standards and want to be accepted and appreciated by others.

There are two types of perfectionists: adaptive and maladaptive. Adaptive perfectionists are more goal-oriented and conscientious, and adjust well within groups. This type of perfectionist scores high on leadership abilities and tends to be the kind of person who reaches for attainable goals and continuously seeks self-improvement. Adaptive perfectionism tends to be self-oriented; meaning, they adhere to strict standards while maintaining strong motivation to attain perfection. By contrast, maladaptive perfectionists tend to fear criticism, are obsessive over order, and seek total admiration. These perfectionists as leaders tend to be micromanaging, emphasize hard work over results, and struggle with building and maintaining positive relationships with others. The impact can be de-motivated employees, underdeveloped staff, and high turnover.

Perfectionism can serve you well if it’s healthy and oriented toward self-improvement and strong goal orientation. And it’s important to be aware of when you are being self-critical and irrational. As I’ve developed as a person and leader, I like to reframe perfectionism in a more healthy way. Rather than strive to be perfect, I now strive to be excellent.

Here are eight strategies for being a “healthy” perfectionist:

Get out of your office. Schedule at least three, fifteen-minute blocks of time a day to get out of your office and connect with people or to go outdoors. Giving your brain a break brings clarity and focus, and often gives you the mental space you need to reframe your perfectionism tendencies.

Delegate and trust. Perfectionists often feel they will be seen as successful leaders if they can do it all. The opposite is actually true. A good leader is able to delegate some tasks and projects and focus on the important, high-leverage areas.

Develop employees. The more time you take to develop your employees, the more opportunities you will have to delegate work to them and free up your time for the most important strategic projects.

Pare down your to do list. At the end of each day, pick one or two important tasks or projects that are essential to complete the next day. Instead of focusing on a long “to do” list, start your day by focusing on your two important tasks. Determine that your day will be a success if you complete these items. Many perfectionists are action oriented and feel successful by checking things off a list. It’s better to accomplish the important tasks rather than just any task.

Focus on being, not just doing. Perfectionists usually focus on accomplishments and tend to neglect downtime. Designate downtime every day where you shut off everything and leave the demands behind.

Celebrate mistakes. We are all human. When you make a mistake, celebrate and learn from it. Better yet, tell your staff about your mistake. They will actually have more respect for you for admitting you are not perfect.

Strive for excellent instead of perfect. We waste so much time and energy trying to ensure every detail is perfect. Often what you think is only “good” work is seen as far more superior in others’ eyes. Strive for excellence, and accept that you can be more productive by not being perfect.

Institute “pause” moments. Whether it’s meditation or just taking ten minutes a day to take a breath and quiet your mind, pausing throughout the day to regroup can be very empowering. This has made a huge difference in my life. I am calmer and more focused, and have reduced my anxiety significantly around what needs to get done. Even though I’m not perfect at slowing down, pausing throughout the day to be present in the moment makes me feel more in control.

Awareness is the first step toward reducing anxiety around perfectionism. Start noticing the irrational thoughts going through your head (i.e., I’ll get fired if this report is not perfect) and bring yourself back to reality.

I’d love to hear from you: What strategies have you used to keep your perfectionism in check? Share your suggestions in the comments section below.

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Do top grades in school predict great leadership?

Diagram of emotional intelligenceI was a good student in high school, but not at the top of my class. If I didn’t find a subject appealing (um, chemistry) I didn’t put as much effort into it as I know I should have. So I was relieved when I read an article that said emotional intelligence is more important than IQ when it comes to being a successful leader. It turns out you don’t have to be valedictorian to be a highly successful leader. In fact, Daniel Goleman, the article author, said when he asks a roomful of CEOs if they were magna cum laude or had the highest grades in their class, less than 1% raise their hands.

Emotional intelligence is our ability to perceive, reason with, understand and manage our emotions. Leaders who are self aware and are able to manage their emotions are more successful than those who are blind to emotions and their impact on others.

Goleman says, “A higher proportion of the competencies that distinguish the stars among leaders turn out to be based on emotional intelligence rather than IQ-type abilities, by far–like 80 or 90 percent of them.”

The good news is that emotional intelligence is not fixed. With awareness and practice, we can develop our emotional intelligence.

While there are many elements of emotional intelligence, I find many leaders struggle with areas like self-awareness, empathy, interpersonal relationships, and emotional expression. Most employees connect better with leaders who are authentic, approachable, supportive and who listen well. I’m sure we’ve all experienced working with people who were very intelligent yet poor leaders.

Below are three ways to increase your emotional intelligence:

Ask for feedback. There are several tools for gaining information on how your staff and peers perceive you. An emotional intelligence assessment or 360 degree feedback survey are great ways to benchmark how your emotional intelligence skills are perceived by others.  Sending an survey to anonymously collect feedback will help you to focus in on the areas of improvement.

Listen. Studies show that most people are only about 25% effective as listeners. Listening is a mental skill that takes energy and discipline. With practice, we can improve our ability to listen. A good practice is to focus really intently on the person speaking and wait until she has finished before you formulate your response. When meeting with an employee, turn off the alerts on your email and phones so you can focus on the conversation.

Cultivate relationships. Many leaders don’t find the time to interact with their staff because they are too busy. This often leads to employees feeling their boss is unapproachable or doesn’t care. Focus on developing relationships with people by asking about their personal life and walking around to interact with them. Foster an engaging environment where employees enjoy coming to work.

To watch a 5 minute video by Daniel Goleman on emotional intelligence, click here: Emotional Intelligence Video

I’d love to hear from you–what do you think are the most important qualities for being a successful and respected leader?

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Why you should never vent to your boss

iStock_000026324486MediumSeveral months ago I was facilitating a workshop on communication, and the topic of venting came up. One manager shared that she consistently vents to her boss about challenges in her position, like interpersonal issues with employees or coworkers. She felt since she has a good relationship with her vice president, that it seemed natural to vent to her when she was having challenges. “I need someone to vent my frustrations to so I can feel better. I use her as an outlet,” she said.

Venting can be good in some situations and help a person feel better by talking things out or working through emotions. But you should never vent to your boss. Even if you have a great relationship with your boss, venting can be risky to your career. By definition, venting means “to express one’s thoughts or feelings, especially forcefully”. There is a big difference between venting and expressing your thoughts carefully.

If you have a great relationship with your boss, then occasionally sharing challenges and frustrations may be appropriate and natural. Yet consistently using your manager as an outlet to express aggravations only adds to your boss’s problems. She may start to view you as not being able to effectively handle challenges in your role, and it may affect how she views your performance. Whether your boss is the CEO or a mid level manager, she has a lot on her plate and would probably welcome not being involved in every challenging situation.

When faced with a challenging or frustrating situation, ask yourself these questions:

• What part of this situation can I control?
• What are two or three ways I could resolve this situation?
• How could I effectively approach this person to get the best result? (if you’re dealing with an interpersonal conflict)
• Will I handle this situation more effectively if I take a day to cool down?
• Is this something my boss needs to be involved in, or is it something I can handle on my own?

After asking yourself these questions, if you feel it’s appropriate to involve your boss, then approach it constructively by carefully framing the challenge you are facing and sharing the possible solutions you are considering. If you are seeking guidance, let your boss know that you are open to coaching around the challenge and need some advice or a different perspective.

Most leaders would welcome not being involved in every challenge and gladly allow their employees to resolve their own issues.

Now, I’d love to hear from you. What strategies have you used to deal with challenges or frustrations at work?

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Why learning is overrated

iStock_000027548259MediumI’ve always loved to learn. I read almost every day and often push myself to get through as many books as possible. I consider myself a lifelong learner, but I sometimes find myself overwhelmed with information. I often struggle to keep up with the books, ideas, articles and resources there are to improve my leadership and my life.

Up until a couple months ago, I thought learning was an important aspect of being a successful leader; the ability to consistently take in new and interesting ideas.

But all that changed.

I was participating in a program by Darren Hardy about increasing productivity, and he said something that changed the way I think about learning. Here is what he said:

“We need to stop learning, and start studying.”

This may not seem very profound, but it changed the way I look at personal development. Learning is about taking in new ideas, whereas studying is about applying those ideas. Studying is about using those ideas to change your leadership and your life. Instead of setting goals to learn more, the most successful leaders study concepts and ideas deeply and then apply the information to their leadership.

This has changed the way I take in new information. Instead of making it a goal to read a certain number of books in a year, I have eliminated that goal. I realized it is about what I do with the information, not the amount of information I take in. I could read 50 books a year and have some great knowledge in my brain, but not do much with it. Or I could read 10 books a year and really study them; really reflect on the information and how I can apply it to my leadership.

I recently started reading the book, The Pause Principle, by Kevin Cashman. I am devoting more time with this book to reflect on the ideas and following through on the exercises and questions. I am not just learning information, I am applying the concepts. It may take me a month or more to finish the book, but I am taking my time and studying the information.

I’d like to hear from you. Do you ever struggle to apply what you learn? Head on over to the comments section and share your thoughts with us.

And if you are interested in the book, The Pause Principle, I definitely recommend it. Click below for more information:

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How you may be sabotaging your relationship with employees

unhappy employeesWe are getting ready to remodel our kitchen, and I contacted several contractors to visit our home to discuss the project and provide an estimate. One didn’t return our initial calls, one came out and we had to follow up three times before he sent the estimate, and one called us back within a day and sent his estimate within two days of our meeting. It was not a hard to decide who to hire for the job.

Responsiveness and follow through are crucial for any business, and unfortunately many organizations fall short of making this a practice. How a person responds and follows up says a lot about an organization and their service. These actions set the tone for the relationship, or it dissolves the relationship before it has even begun.

This applies to leaders and their employees. Every interaction you have with your employees sets the tone for that relationship and either deepens the relationship or chips away at it. Unfortunately, many leaders take the relationships they have with employees for granted and don’t see the impact of the daily interactions.

Below are common examples of how leaders can damage the relationship with employees:

  • Showing up late to meetings
  • Shifting a meeting you have with an employee because another “priority” came up
  • Not providing feedback
  • Not giving an employee their performance evaluation on time
  • Not showing appreciation
  • Always being too busy to support or coach
  • Not providing clear expectations and deadlines
  • Not being prepared for a meeting you have with an employee

You have an opportunity every day to bring your best leadership to your people. How you interact with and treat your employees sets the tone for how they will treat your clients. Accountability starts with you. Do you model accountability with your employees? Do you do what you say you are going to do? I believe our employee relationships are the most important. If you put your employees first, they will in turn put your clients first. If employees feel appreciated and cared for, they will exhibit the same approach toward clients.

An exceptional leader models positive behaviors and views the relationships with his employees as one of the most important relationships to cultivate. An exceptional leader is never too busy to write a thank you note, show appreciation, meet with his employees, provide meaningful feedback, and conduct performance evaluations. An exceptional leader knows it’s his job to make employees a priority and ensure the relationship gets continued focus.

I’d love to hear what you do to cultivate the relationship with your employees. Share one thing you do to ensure your employees feel they are a priority in the comments section below.

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My Tips for Increased Energy

I just returned from a relaxing getaway in Cancun with my family and it was just what I needed to recharge and refocus. One of my personal goals this year is to schedule more downtime. I can very easily get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, and sometimes neglect to take care of myself and ensure I am getting the time I need to recharge.

So what does this have to do with leadership? In my experience, many leaders get so caught up in work, that they leave little time for leisure. I used to be one of those leaders. I enjoyed my work, and would often work long hours. I would come home mentally and physically exhausted, which left very little time and energy for exercise, eating right, and taking care of myself. I like to keep busy, and at the time, leisure time sounded unproductive.

I admit that I sometimes still struggle with prioritizing leisure time, but I have made consistent progress and continue to focus on making small changes. To be an effective leader, we need frequent mental and physical breaks to de-clutter our minds and recharge physically. We can’t possibly run on overdrive and be effective. Attending to the physical, emotional, and spiritual side will ensure we have the energy and mental capacity to bring the best to our work.

Below are some changes I am implementing to make sure I can work at peak performance and have the energy to bring my best to my work.

Pre-schedule vacations and getaways. I used to do this backwards. I would put all of my work commitments in my calendar, and then a few months before I wanted to take a vacation, I would try to fit it in. This caused more stress since I often didn’t have room in my schedule for any time off. This past year, I started scheduling my downtime first. I blocked out several weeks I wanted to take off (even if I didn’t have a destination yet), and committed to taking that time I need. I also blocked off at least two full days a month with no commitments so that I could use that time for planning and creative thinking. Blocking this time in my calendar has served as a constant reminder that this time needs to be a priority.

Make health a priority. This is nothing new, and I think it’s easier said than done. When I am busy, I grab convenience foods like unhealthy snacks. My family is working on cutting out most processed foods this year and planning our meals ahead of time. This can be challenging–like when my husband bought four box of Girl Scout cookies this weekend–but we are making small changes that are really adding up. I follow a website that has been an excellent resource called 100 Days of Real Food. Check it out here: www.100daysofrealfood.com. I have used many of these recipes to make food on the weekends to have for the week.

Get some sleep. Unless you are a giraffe (they only need a total of 1.9 hours of sleep a day), you probably need at least eight hours of sleep a night. Nearly 8 in 10 Americans say they would feel better and more prepared for the day if they got more sleep. Technology is one reason why many people don’t get enough sleep–they stay up surfing the Internet, watching television, working, or playing games on their phone. This is one area that is non-negotiable for me. I aim to get about nine hours a sleep a night (as long as my 3 year old and 1 year old cooperate!). If I get less than eight hours, I absolutely feel a difference the next day–I’m tired, sluggish, and have very little motivation to focus.

Get clear on limiting beliefs. I ended last year exhausted and ready for a break. I had been running at full speed all year, and felt like I didn’t have the breaks I needed to regroup and relax. When I reflected, I realized that I had a subconscious belief that work should always come first. This limiting belief was apparent in my decisions, and it was having a negative impact in my life. I would choose work over things that I said were priorities, like exercise and meditation. If something for work came up, I would often shift personal commitments to accommodate my work schedule. I realized that this had to change. There will always be work. And if I treat the personal needs as optional, they will never rise to the top of the list. Now I schedule my personal needs in my calendar months ahead of time to make sure they get the focus they need. Sometimes I will need to shift something, but I am making a lot of progress in prioritizing my leisure time.

Small habits lead to big changes. As a leader, I know you have a very busy schedule. Adding more commitments probably seems impossible. Start with small changes and build from there. In my work with leaders, I find that the most successful people are those who make small habit changes and are consistent. They stick to the changes and focus on improving and making better choices in each moment. It’s great to have a big plan, but it’s even better to get results.

What is one thing you do to recharge and re-energize?

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Making The New Year Awesome

Only 8% of people achieve their new year resolutions. Is it even worth setting goals? I believe the answer is yes. There is a way to set realistic goals and make significant progress in the new year.

Like many people, I take time to reflect and make commitments for the fresh new year approaching. I believe in setting goals and improving, and over the years, I have enhanced and changed my process for creating “resolutions”. I’ve figured out what works for achieving my goals, and most importantly, what doesn’t work. I don’t believe there is one formula for making changes;  each person is different and will respond differently.

Here are the lessons I have learned for achieving new year goals:

Lesson 1: Less is more

I used to make a laundry list of goals for the new year: learn Italian, improve piano playing skills, exercise more, etc. You get the picture. What I found is that when I set too many “stretch goals,” I become overwhelmed and just give up. I end up feeling worse about myself because I failed to achieve the goals I set. A few years ago, I started taking time to imagine my ideal life. What would the ideal look like in health, relationships, and business? I keep my goals realistic. I really take time to think through what resources and time I have and I focus on making progress instead of achieving a list. I would rather make significant progress on three goals than very little progress on ten goals. I have learned how much I am capable of taking on and create my goals accordingly. This creates freedom. Rather than being  chained to a list, I work on making incremental progress.

Lesson 2: Measure each day

I find small steps lead to bigger progress for me. I switched from setting weekly goals to setting daily goals. I take the ideal life I envisioned and think about ways I can close the gap. I focus on making an impact in this day. Focusing on today takes the overwhelm and judgment away and gives me permission to make choices that feel good now. Inevitably, I end up succeeding with more of my goals when I focus on today. At the end of the year, if I can look back and see progress from the year before, to me that is success. The compound effect is very powerful.

Lesson 3: Focus on the being, not the doing

I am a doer. I love lists and crossing things off. I love the feeling of accomplishment. And when I focus on checking things off, I often lose the intention of my goal. For example, for years I have wanted to incorporate meditation into my ritual. I read books on meditation and tried to meditate, and my mind was racing. I was trying too hard to “do” meditation correctly. I often found myself wanting to check it off my list rather than get the full experience and benefits. And that’s just pointless. This past year, I focused instead on the “being”. The purpose of meditation is to clear and quiet your mind. So, I sat quietly with music, closed my eyes and kept quiet. I am not great at it, but I get benefit from it, and I am improving over time.

What has worked for you when setting goals?

Wishing you an awesome year!

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The Power of Simplicity

I believe many organizations are suffering from self-imposed complexity. I am frequently hearing from leaders that they have too much on their plate, and that the pace and demands in their organizations make it almost impossible to accomplish anything. They’re in meetings all day, they have 25 projects to complete this year, and their employees are overwhelmed and overtaxed.

In the quest to achieve so many goals, many executive teams are overambitious, over-scheduled, and over-committed. They are mired in so many competing demands, that they lack the ability to focus, which holds them back from achieving very much of anything. They may be really busy, but they are not producing much. This complexity trickles down to all levels of the organization and can paralyze a company from getting anything done. This has become such the norm in so many organizations, that some leaders have convinced themselves that there is no other way of operating.

Don’t get me wrong. Things aren’t always easy. New technology needs to be implemented, new employees need to be hired, and new ideas need to be created. I’m not saying leaders don’t need to juggle multiple priorities. But how many is too many? How often do we add a level of complexity by trying to do everything at once? In the quest to make everything a priority, we make nothing a priority. Not a lot gets done.

There is power in simplicity. When a leadership team can make things uncomplicated and clear, that’s where the magic happens. That’s when people at all levels can really focus and make things happen. That’s where you can really create traction and begin to produce awesome results.

Take a look at your organization. Does everyone know what the top three to five priorities are? Can employees at every level tell you what they should be focusing on? And do their answers align with the true priorities? To be able to communicate what your employees should be focused on, you first have to be clear about the top priorities yourself.

 

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Leadership Lessons From a 2 Year Old

It was another crazy morning of getting everyone ready and out of the house. We were walking to the car and my two-year-old daughter, Olivia, wanted to stop and smell the flowers (literally) in the front yard. I tried to rush her and managed to get her into her car seat. “My do!” she yelled (this is toddler talk for “I want to do it!”). She wanted to buckle her own car seat. Why did these things always happen on the days I am running late? I knew I wouldn’t win the battle, so I tried to patiently encourage her to quickly buckle the strap because “Mommy has to get to an important client meeting”. Of course she took her time; after all, she was on her timetable, not mine.

I was reflecting on this experience a couple of days later, and realized there was a lot of learning for me in this interaction. I like to do things quickly–check things off my list, make the decision, move forward on a project, achieve a goal. I like it when things are organized and go as planned (when I was expecting Olivia, my husband used to joke that when she was born she would come out with a Franklin Covey planner). Sometimes I just have to laugh when Olivia dumps milk on her school outfit three minutes before leaving, runs in the opposite direction when I tell her to get in the car, or throws herself on the floor in a tantrum when I tell her to put on her shoes. But I digress.

Oftentimes in our leadership, we are so focused on getting things done, that we are not present in our relationships. We put off giving that meaningful feedback to our coworker; we don’t get a chance to tell our employee how much we value her work; or we don’t have enough time in our day to get out and interact with staff members. We rationalize that we have important things to do. Yet slowing down and being a deliberate, purposeful leader is what will make us most effective. We forget that building and maintaining these significant relationships is what leadership is all about. It’s the people side of the business that often gets neglected.

Questions to ponder:

·         Who do I need to recognize?

·         What work (or personal) relationship have I not been giving 100% to?

·         Who on my team have I not thanked lately?

·         Who on my team needs more focused development?

I wish I could say that I will never feel the need to rush my daughter again. I can’t change my busy and productive nature, and patience is not one of my strengths. But I have learned a lesson about being present in each moment. She is stretching me in a new direction, and I realize I can learn a lot from a two year old.

Just last week my husband was taking Olivia to school (he’s much more patient than me) and she was slowly walking down the front path. I waved to her from behind the door, anxiously waiting to get back to my office to prepare for a conference call. She must have recognized I still hadn’t  quite learned the lesson of being present. She turned around, put out her arms, smiled at me and said, “”Hug?” Of course I did what every mother would do. I ran outside, threw my arms around her, and gave her a big kiss and hug. That is a moment I wouldn’t miss for any conference call. And then I cried. See, I do have a softer side.

 

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Working on Vacation

Greetings from North Carolina! I’m enjoying a nice vacation with my family in the beautiful southern state. I love vacations not only for the family time and relaxation, but also because it gives me the reflection and planning time I need for my business.

A few days ago, my husband said that every time he looked over at me, I was on my phone or my iPad. I wasn’t really enjoying my time away because I was too preoccupied. I know many experts say you should completely disconnect when you’re on vacation, but I find that unrealistic. I would feel stressed the entire vacation if I didn’t fit in some work. However, after my husband’s comment, I knew I needed to set some boundaries.

I decided I would only work during the two hours when the kids are (hopefully) napping. The rest of the time I would be completely present with my family and really enjoy our time together. I already have some of these boundaries set up back home, and they’ve worked really well to ensure I’m not overdoing it at work. For example, I don’t work or check emails after 8 p.m. on weekdays, and at all on Sundays.

One practice I will be implementing when I get home is to reserve two work days per month with no appointments or meetings. These two days will be my time for planning and thinking. Rather than overload my schedule, I will make it a priority to have some downtime to generate ideas.

I’d love to hear from you. Do you find it hard to disconnect on vacation? What are some of the things you do to set boundaries?

Naptime is almost over, so I’ve got to go!

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