How to spot a perfectionist – and what to do if you are one

Written by David Waller Tuesday 12 March 2024
Striving for quality is one thing; berating yourself or your team because the output isn’t flawless is another. Here’s how to stop perfectionism derailing that work – or preventing it from getting off the ground in the first place
A person stood next to a rubbish bin, which is filled with crumpled up paper

Ginni Rometty, former president and CEO of IBM, recently called perfectionism one of the worst traits a leader can exhibit. It is, she said, “the enemy of progress”.

Surely refusing to accept anything that falls short of impeccably high standards is a good thing? 

Not necessarily. 

Ask actress Shelley Duvall. During the making of The Shining, director Stanley Kubrick forced the star to retake one scene a staggering 127 times in a bid to get it just right. Duvall suffered hair loss because the shoot was so stressful. 

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs once dragged his family into a fortnight-long deliberation over which washing machine to buy. At work, he was said to be aggressive and demeaning towards employees who didn’t meet his exacting standards.

And these aren’t isolated incidents. Dr Paul Hewitt, from the Perfectionism and Psychotherapy Lab at the University of British Columbia, describes the idea of healthy perfectionism as a “pernicious myth… an oxymoron”. 

It seems that good enough may well be better.

Want to discover how to manage perfectionism?


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