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Coach's Corner--June 2, 2008

You can share work, add skills without lowering standards

The Client
Name: Alex
Age: 55
Title: Communications manager
Time at company:  10 years
Industry: Financial services
Issue: Letting go of perfectionism
Q.  I find it hard to delegate tasks to others. As a result, I don’t spend enough time on the strategy-related aspects of my job. A co-worker told me I have “control issues.” My boss says I need to stop being a perfectionist. But I feel that I need to do it all myself to be sure it’s done correctly. I’m pretty conflicted here. Help!

A. Perfectionism and control create a powerful, performance-limiting trap. Changing your approach to sharing work and diversifying your skills will open up more robust possibilities.

The inner game
Your first step is to explore the dynamics that lead you to maintain tight control.

One common concern is that errors will get by. If errors have been costly in the past, then letting go of control may seem risky. But start with a reality check: How likely is harsh fallout from minor errors? What about big mistakes? Understanding this, you can make strategic decisions on which work to delegate and how closely to maintain oversight, rather than letting fear dictate your choices.

Also, consider the benefits of successful delegation. In situations when you’ve handed work over or have been delegated to, you may have seen positive outcomes and high morale. Remind yourself of these examples when you’re trying to ease up on control. And, be open to learning from someone else’s way of performing a task.

You may be more in your comfort zone with detail work, and less comfortable with strategic thinking. It’s natural to concentrate energy where you feel most competent; however, this also limits your contribution. Consider which aspects of your job are a stretch, and be clear about your strengths and development needs. Your goal is to become comfortable with knowing what you don’t know — then using this knowledge to grow.

The outer game
There are two areas for action: learning to delegate and building your strategy skills.

To become a better delegator, start safe. Choose someone you trust to do a good job, and do a final review of the work. Then push yourself to widen the net of people you’re comfortable with by delegating lower-risk tasks, gradually including more visible or complex tasks. To ensure that work quality is maintained, provide specific, actionable feedback to the person doing the work while staying open to new or different solutions for accomplishing the task. And, remember to express your appreciation.

You’ll now have time to focus on strategy. First, analyze your company’s strategic direction to keep your strategy work in alignment. Then, meet with your boss to clarify expectations and to brainstorm, if needed. Find a mentor whose strategic thinking skills you admire and ask for help. Most people are honored to be asked, and would be willing to work with you if they have time. Finally, don’t procrastinate. When you’re facing a challenge, the feeling that your work isn’t good enough could stop your momentum. Get something outlined and get feedback, if only to break through your initial anxiety.

The last word
Perfectionism can hold you and your organization back. However, you can maintain your high standards while increasing your contribution by building your skills and investing in others.

Liz Reyer, President RCC - Posted June 2, 2008
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