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Intelligent Insights

Drayton's Nick Maughan, brings some down-to-earth insights to the problem of perfectionism and how it can adversely affect a business.

Perfect World Syndrome (And how to avoid it).

Are you always striving for perfection? Do you set very ambitious goals? And achieve them. But…does the way you feel about those achievements sometimes seem like the polar opposite of success? Then you may be suffering from Perfect World Syndrome. It’s a tendency I occasionally overindulge in myself, which can sometimes stop me from enjoying things I’m really passionate about. Like cycling.

A few years ago I spent some time with a business coach who gave me insights into this side of my personality. We talked about how, when I cycle up a mountain, I can fail to enjoy the moment. I’m not Chris Froome, but I am a decent amateur cyclist. And yet, I can sometimes fail to appreciate my own achievements. Rather than taking a well-earned breather and enjoying the spectacular views at the top of a mountain, I’ll usually be looking at my watch to see how long the climb took me. If the result is less than I’m aiming for I can feel pretty disappointed. And, even if the time is better than my target, only, very briefly, allow myself to feel a small sense of achievement. Before I immediately start thinking about how I should now aim to climb that mountain even faster.

Recognise yourself now? Then keep reading.

I read an article recently about Stephen Hendry, the snooker player. He was talking about the highs and lows of being a perfectionist. How when he was young and he was winning everything he never took any time to enjoy it. Because he always expected to win, he came to think he didn’t really deserve to appreciate the victory. Triumphs came to feel like nothing. Perhaps, in part, because of those exceptionally high – possibly unachievable – standards, Hendry, eventually, began to lose. But, unlike his psychologically inconsequential successes, those defeats felt crushing and he struggled to recover from them.

My experience in recruitment tells me some senior managers fall into the same kind of psychological trap.

At Drayton we place lots of MDs and CEOs, which means I get to meet many high-achieving people. Being driven and ambitious is, it goes without saying, what our clients are looking for in their candidates. But, it’s very hard to motivate a team if you set stretching goals, then don’t take time to recognise the success of achieving them, before putting even loftier targets in place. In striving for a perfect world you can fail to create a real one in which your team and, ultimately, your business can thrive.

In his best-selling book, The Chimp Paradox, the business psychologist and mentor to the British cycling team, Dr Steve Peters, underlines how vitally important it is to “always celebrate any successes.” That, I’ve come to understand, is an essential way to counteract Perfect World Syndrome – a simple step to ensure a business tastes more victories than defeats.