Don't mistake excellence with perfectionism
Not long ago I facilitated a workshop where a client recounted a story about a successful VP he met while my client served him lunch at an upscale restaurant. This VP was making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and he shared with my client the secret of his success. “Whatever you are doing,” he said, “even flipping burgers, do it with one hundred per cent of your effort.” He told my client that he had been working at an entry-level sales job, but was so engaged in his work that he attracted the attention of a well-positioned person in a large conglomerate at which the VP was now stationed. This story resonated for me, because it reminded me of how important it is to focus on excellence in one’s work, or on what psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell in his new book “Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best From Your People” calls “the cycle of excellence.”
As you look around your workplace and community you see people who stand out as exceptional in their work, whether paid or unpaid. They seem to operate with flow, they have passion for what they are doing, and they are engaged. They stand out in excellence.
Excellence, daunting as it may sound, is not about doing everything perfectly. These people are not perfectionists. They are not concerned with earning approval, avoiding judgment, or depending on the praise of others for their achievement and performance. They do not identify as being their accomplishments. And they are not as likely to be the parents who profusely praise their children for their grades, goals, or good looks. Because fostering this dependence on praise for one’s worth leads to perfectionism. And it is perfectionism that is more likely to create a fear of failure and criticism that stops us from engaging in healthy areas of competition and striving. Perfectionism is self-destructive because it simply doesn’t exist.
So what are these people who are engaged in the cycle of excellence actually doing? And if we want to foster these qualities in others, and ourselves, what should we do?
Hallowell describes strategies for the workplace that are an antidote for a disengaged workforce. The first step is to select the right person for the right job, or for us to select our own right fit in our career path. On a personal level, it is about operating from that place of “Hell yes!” and not tolerating a life where we are not applying our talents wholeheartedly. The second step is one Hallowell says is the most powerful, and that is to “connect.” Disengaged people feel distant, and that drains their energy. A manager can reverse this through helping the employee find ways to link themselves with ideas, people and organizations that empower them. Our own job is to also engage in activities that give us energy and joy. The third step is “play unearths talent and ideas.” Play is essential to unearth peak performance and is elemental in genuine creativity. It’s also an area that so many of us as adults neglect. How can we play more? The fourth step is to “grapple and grow: making work pay off.” After steps one to three are integrated, we need to help ourselves and others contend with the presenting challenges and think them through, gaining self-knowledge. We also need to learn to deal with stress, and not hold onto fear and anxiety, so that we can focus. A good manager purges fear from the workplace, and an engaged individual does not let thoughts of fear rule their actions.
And lastly, Hallowell writes, the key is to “shine; recognition picks everyone up.” Acknowledge people’s efforts but avoid empty praise. Stop focusing on errors and mistakes and pay attention to what people do well. We can use this adage in our personal life when we look at our strengths and build on them. Together, these steps build the connection that is the cornerstone of growth.
Marshall & Associates provides human resources plus individual and group development services.
For a consultation, or to find out more about their certified coaching services, please call (250) 513-0044 or visit marshallandassociates.ca