This blog is intended for leaders who are or who supervise overachievers and perfectionists. If you are not one of those…you may find it interesting anyway!
This story came from my colleague Cheryl…This morning, after breakfast and coffee, I excitedly grabbed my new tin of Jones carbonated orange and cream candy. I popped the lid and read a quote from Kevin from Lexington on the inside lid. It read, “I’m not lazy, I’m relaxed”.
There is already much said and written about how to motivate our employees.
This is not a blog about how to motivate people to perform. In fact, it’s the opposite.
The bigger question Cheryl and I contemplated is, “As leaders, how do we motivate our overachievers and perfectionists to take the time off? You know…dare I say it…to relax and possibly even consider…now this is extremely cringe worthy...being lazy for a moment?”
Okay, I can feel many of you getting extremely uncomfortable and squirming in your chair right now! Perhaps you are even contemplating not reading any further…however if you are an Overachiever or Perfectionist, I know you will because you will be propelled to finish the blog!
In the last few weeks many of our conversations with leaders have been about being weary. Much has happened over the last few month with trying to shift business modalities, dealing with remote teams, trying to plan for an unpredictable future and still trying to still get stuff done.
The adrenalin rush appears to be wearing off and we are hearing a lot of people who are just plain tired!
As a coach, we are not usually prone to telling clients what to do…it has to be their decision how they approach something, however I have found myself saying a few times lately…for the good of yourself, your family and your team, your first action item is to book time off!
What Drives Overachievers and Perfectionists?
Overachievers and Perfectionists tend to be driven by a need to go over and above expected levels of effort and achievement. This often starts from a very early age and continues on into adulthood. They may feel a constant need to prove themselves, prove their worth, and/or earn praise for their efforts.
If this describes you and you think back to your childhood, you may be able to pinpoint the messages you got that encouraged you to constantly strive to get over an already high bar.
The strength they bring to a team is that they tend to take the initiative without needing to be told and often go above and beyond to solve problems. They strive to step over very high bars with most things they take on… and they take on a lot!
Burn Out -- the ‘dark side’ of being an Overachiever or Perfectionist
As with any quality we possess, there is a strength and a ‘dark side’ to that quality when overused.
Marshall Goldsmith, a leadership coach, authored the book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There”. In it he writes how challenging it is to change and adopt new behaviors when what we have been doing, in our minds, have made us so successful.
He goes on to share that many organizations have encouraged overachievers by putting in place rewards for achievements which further promotes the overachieving behavior.
The truth is that many Overachievers and Perfectionists not only drive themselves, they also share that energy with those around them…sometimes appearing frenetic and rushed and creating an extremely high bar for those they work with.
I asked one of my ‘overachiever’ clients the other day, “What do you do to relax, wind down?” Her answer, “I get things checked off my to do list…that makes me feel relaxed!” So, in essence, she works harder to achieve more in order for her mind to feel at peace.
This rings true for many Overachievers and Perfectionists…they are too far away from relaxed. In their quest to deliver, they make compromises and sacrifices that put them on the edge – a place where they are unbalanced, stressed and not at their best to be creative, happy, or productive.
This reality places some of our best people in jeopardy and can lead to burn out and breakdowns.
- 75% to 90% of physician visits are related to stress (American Institute of Stress)
- The workplace has become the single greatest source of stress (NIOSH)
In her blog, ‘Why You Need to Stop Pushing Yourself So Hard at Work’, Lolly Daskal shares how workaholism has become the norm and people don’t realize the serious consequences for your physical and mental health. She shares these early symptoms of stress from overwork:
- Chronic irritability
- Feeling that you never do enough
- Constantly having to be on
- Distancing yourself from your personal life
- Compromising self-care
Most people who are in the early stages of ‘burn out’ are too close to see it. They need support from others to step back, see the danger signs and readjust.
How Can We Support Balance with our Overachievers and Perfectionists?
As leaders, we can support our best people to make their highest contributions and live their best lives. Your high performer will deliver. That isn’t the issue.
This is an opportunity to create an environment that promotes higher performance, healthy living and strong, sustainable solutions.
What’s also important to highlight here…your idea of ‘balance’ or ‘relax’ or ‘wind down time’ might look very different from another person’s so while you can support a healthy conversation around it, the decision has to come from them.
Here are a few ways to create the environment to support balance:
- Build a strong, trusting relationship so they know you are focused on helping them be successful. Telling someone to ‘slow down’ or that something is ‘good enough’ or to ‘take time off’ when you don’t have a strong relationship can create insecurities around what your intentions are. They might wonder, “Are you trying to make me fail?” This will drive them to work harder.
- Be candid with them if you see them exhibiting some of the behaviors noted above. When we are ‘in it’ we often have blind spots and can’t see what others see. Let them know you are concerned and share specifics.
- Help them prioritize. Be clear about where the bar really is. Their bar will almost always be higher. By being clear on the organization’s priorities for their role you can help reduce unspoken fears that they aren’t working hard enough or delivering enough.
- Once you have established priorities, provide reality checks and support the person to say ‘NO’. Help them shift their perspective…”Saying NO actually means you have more time to put effort into your top priorities.” This is important to an Overachiever and can serve to promote a better balance between effort and achievement.
- Once priorities and boundaries have been established, reinforce that it is safe to fail. Overachievers set their sights high and don’t like to fail. Your reinforcement of what is ‘enough’ and that failure is a learning opportunity, can help curb the frustration and stress of having a project come up short.
- Recognize their contributions in ways that go beyond the number of hours they work. Perhaps they helped out another team mate, perhaps they brought value to another project through an impromptu conversation with someone. They need help understanding there are more ways to bring value than the number of hours they work or the number of things they can check of their ‘to do’ list in a day.
- Keep them accountable to book vacation and time off and actually take the time off. For some Overachievers this balance might be that they spend a half hour each morning and evening checking emails and then take the rest of the day off…have a conversation with them to establish what is doable for them and then support them to stick with it. There’s some great data in this article on how encouraging people to ‘not work’ on their vacation has positive benefits.
- Help them let things go. Especially right now when people are perhaps planning for their new fiscal and have no idea what the next months and year is going to look like. Right now, what does ‘good enough’ look like in your org? Many leaders are turning their focus from nailing down specifics to staying agile, adaptive and open minded.
As with anything, overachieving and perfectionism is a strength…until it is not!
We’d love to hear from you around the successes and challenges you have had leading an Overachiever and/or Perfectionist!