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Why Perfectionism Isn’t Perfect

Peas 400x265Why Being Mr. (or Mrs.) Perfect may not be so perfect after all.

Perfectionism is one of those wonderful character traits that we all aspire too, but can often lead to drastically negative behaviour.  It continually points to our failures, no matter how small and undermines our achievements.

Culturally, we prize perfectionism; Steve Jobs is frequently held as an ideal for insisting on perfection.

As we’ve discussed elsewhere, adaptability is a key ingredient in resilient people.  And resilient people are the ones who will come back time and again to face a challenge.  The irony of perfectionism is that eventually, the perfectionist will give up.  And whatever challenge they faced will be left un-conquered.  Was Steve Jobs a perfectionist?  Or was he able to adapt his ideas to the modern marketplace?  That debate still rages on in our office today.

But research now shows us that perfectionism is an acquired trait, we’re certainly not born with it.  How perfect were your idle doodles as a 4 year old?  Could they have been better?

One interesting shift in modern society is the pressure we place on our children to succeed.  Without the requisite social skills in place, children often perceive this pressure as criticism.  And it’s this perceived criticism that works its way into the psyche and develops as a trait.

One side effect to perfectionism is a focus on control; it encourages rigid thinking and behaviour.  That’s precisely the opposite of what is required from individuals across organisations in the modern context, where we want to see innovation and flexibility.

According to Psychology Today:

“Perfectionism reduces playfulness and the assimilation of knowledge; if you’re always focused on your own performance and on defending yourself, you can’t focus on learning a task. Here’s the cosmic thigh-slapper: Because it lowers the ability to take risks, perfectionism reduces creativity and innovation—exactly what’s not adaptive in the global marketplace.”

“Yet, it does more. It is a steady source of negative emotions; rather than reaching toward something positive, those in its grip are focused on the very thing they most want to avoid—negative evaluation. Perfectionism, then, is an endless report card; it keeps people completely self-absorbed, engaged in perpetual self-evaluation—reaping relentless frustration and doomed to anxiety and depression.”

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Below we list some of the personality traits exhibited by perfectionists.

Concern over mistakes: Perfectionists tend to interpret mistakes as equivalent to failure and to believe they will lose the respect of others following failure.

High personal standards: Perfectionists don’t just set very high standards but place excessive importance on those standards for self-evaluation.

Parental expectations: Perfectionists tend to believe their parents set very high goals for them.

Parental criticism: Perfectionists perceive that their parents are (or were) overly critical.

Doubting actions: Perfectionists doubt their ability to accomplish tasks.

Organisation: Perfectionists tend to emphasise order.

In a team environment we’ve experienced first-hand that the rigidity of perfectionism is difficult to work with.  The drive for the perfect answer doesn’t make space for the weird and wonderful world of collaboration.

What can you do to overcome the drawbacks to perfectionism?  As a starting point, we can take a leaf from Taibi Kahler’s book on drivers.  He identified ‘Be Perfect’ as an inherent driver type and offered these suggestions:

  • Encourage playfulness in your thinking process
  • Cultivate mindfulness when dealing with others
  • Practise accepting imperfection from others as well as yourself
  • Acknowledge the effort that’s put into meeting challenges
  • Invite feedback and embrace it

Perfectionism can be problematic because it can lead to obsessiveness, which in turn leads to a whole host of issues around attendance, performance, and morale.  For example; you’ll often see a perfectionist procrastinate because they’re afraid of failing before they start.

Or even worse, they may position themselves as a martyr. Certainly in a business context, the employees we regard as heroes, the ones who come in early, stay late, and solve every problem can actually mask inherent business issues.  The simple fact that heroic measures are required means at least some things are not working right.  So whether we call a person hero or martyr – we need to ask the question, what is really going on and what can we learn from that?

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Happiness at Work

happiness1Maximising Your Psychological Capital for Success – By Jessica Pryce-Jones

I was attracted to this book as the title had components that all relate to my own current research into when you are your best in work: Happiness, psychological capital and success are all factors that I have come across and seeing them all in one book title was intriguing.

What kept me reading the book was the natural style and non-academic approach to sharing the research that the book is based upon.  So if you’re looking for a meaty read, based on research but with a refreshingly natural style, this could be for you.

Jessica Pryce-Jones has developed a model of achieving potential or happiness and she calls it the 5 Cs: Contribution, Conviction, Culture, Commitment and Confidence.  Its initial simplicity is perhaps misleading – all those factors are so interlinked.  As the chapters unfold she shares real stories from the research that illustrate the importance of each of these factors.

What is most compelling about her research is that she provides some tangible implications of developing happiness at work: Greater success, greater energy, greater commitment (all with a massive list of quotable research references supplied at the back of the book).  Each chapter has clear take-aways – I’ve summarised these to give you a flavour:

Chapter 1  sets outs the business case for happiness at work, highlighting that financial value is too limited a measure of success. She suggests that it is individuals’ personal resources and the relationships within teams (psychological and social capital) that work together to feed financial capital.

Chapter 2  takes you through the research journey and number crunching to get to her 5Cs model.  She also highlights that pride, trust and recognition underpin the model and suggests that achieving potential is about developing these factors and maximising the 5Cs.

Chapter 3  focuses on Contribution (one of the 5Cs and she suggests is the most important component of happiness at work).  Here she focuses on what she terms contribution ‘from the inside-out’.  She highlights things you may have already come across like breaking down goals into practical steps.  One memorable learning point is to create your own goals that suit your personal needs.

Chapter 4  takes a slightly different perspective on Contribution – from the Outside-In.  Here she highlights how experiences such as getting feedback can really impact on how you feel about yourself.  Feeling genuinely listened to would appear to be the most important factor here and she gives some helpful hints on developing trust and improving relationships.

Chapter 5  is focused on Conviction – being motivated, having a purpose and direction.  She picks up on factors like ensuring efficiency in our work and developing coping mechanisms so when faced with change we can continue to operate energetically.  She highlights that if we see that our work has a positive impact we are most likely to be able to show conviction in what we do.

Chapter 6  considers the role of Culture in maximising our potential.   She doesn’t take a formal view of culture, highlighting it as fluid.  But what she suggests is that we pay attention to the language that we use, the social support that we have and the control over our daily activities.

Chapter 7  looks at the role of Commitment in that we need to feel that we are doing something worthwhile, interested in our job and believing in the organisation.   She introduces the notion of having hope which is not so much the fluffy feeling but more about having both will power and a sense of how we can get to our goals (way power).   Positive self-talk, focusing on success and positive language are all associated with greater commitment and hope.

Chapter 8  considers the final of the 5Cs, Confidence.   She recommends: using mind tools (like self-talk, imagery) to build self-belief; accepting new challenges; and learning from success all go towards building confidence.

Chapter 9  sweeps up Pride, Trust and Recognition as underpinning the 5Cs – challenging you to build pride in your organisation with some reflection questions; build trust in colleagues, giving you 5 rules to do this; and developing more recognition for achievements through various techniques.

Chapter 10  is simply titled Achieving Your Potential and as you would imagine essentially says attend to all the 5C and you are on your way to doing that.   One interesting takeaway from this chapter that is not always highlighted in other books is that whilst it is vital to work with our strengths we must also not lose sight of weaknesses so we can work on refining our skills.

All of these factors are not earth shatteringly new but the way that she groups them together helps you to think about the practical implications for how we approach our work and how we structure it.   Mixing up happiness and potential is a little bit confusing but maybe that is what this book does – recognises that both are so interlinked they might well be the same thing.  So if I want to be happy in my work I need to maximise my potential…. That is one big challenge!

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What Motivates Us

biscuits-line-white-background1 400x265Despite common assumption, money is not the greatest motivator.

And neither are cookies apparently.  So what is it that motivates us?  Research tells us that doing interesting work, knowing how we contribute to a bigger picture and receiving thanks and recognition (not of the financial kind) are what motivate us most.

So clearly we need to understand what drives each individual, as what we assume motivates someone, may be incorrect.

The best way to do this is when a manager asks their team to complete a motivation questionnaire, then the manager spends time with each individual, learning more about what the team needs in order to do their best work.

The key here is to use the motivation profile to tell you, more quickly and easily than hours of interviews, what buttons really need to be pushed for each individual to put in their best effort. Once you have the profile, you can consider what questions you need to ask each person, to know what they need from you.

The motivation questionnaire can also be insightful for selection – helping a recruiter understand what really makes the candidate do their best work, and sense-checking that against the organisation’s culture.

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What are Motivation Questionnaires?

Motivation questionnaires ask specifically what makes you work more or less hard at work. Whereas personality might indicate what you like, motivation shows us which buttons you need pushed in order to do your best work. A classic insight from a review of both personality and motivation profiles can reveal for example, that an individual prefers less structured work, but they work harder when someone imposes a little structure or sets a tight deadline.

Motivation research shows us that it is not another’s responsibility to motivate a person. In fact, it is really down to each individual to draw their own motivation internally. But a manager, team or organisation can make this easier, by providing the right motivational environment. If we know what buttons are going to be effective, we can get working on the pushing.

What’s the downside?

As with the personality profile, this tool should only be used as a starting point to a great conversation. Using the tool alone, without added interpretation from the individual, is a poor use of a great profile, which can result in misinterpretation, inappropriate action, and little or no value-add.

How to gain maximum value

  • Be open-minded – what motivates you might not motivate others in your team
  • Use the motivation questionnaire as a starting point to a conversation – ask questions to more fully understand what will best motivate your team
  • Make sure you are clear from the outset on your business objectives. Communicate these to all involved so everyone knows why you are using the profile and what the outcomes should be


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Collective Creativity

Totem-Creativity 400x265Is creativity a collective effort?  How do we create creativity?

A recent article published in the British Psychological Society (BPS) Magazine ‘The Psychologist’, suggests creativity may be more about teamwork than individual genius.  Is that a viable idea, and if so, how can we make the most of it at work?

Finding an idea that makes a company grow rapidly, or saves the company millions – that’s gold dust.

Finding the sort of creative genius who comes up with ideas like that – perhaps that’s even more rare.  Or is this idea of a few, wonderful creative types coming up with all the great ideas, a bit misleading?  Research quoted by the BPS suggests that those moments of creative genius are outcomes of favourable circumstances and strong collaboration.  Most great innovations have one name marked against them, followed by a team of collaborators.

The 2012 movie about the creative genius of Alfred Hitchcock depicted the important role of his wife Alma Reville.  The teamwork between the pair was apparently critical in developing the movies that shocked and impressed audiences.  Steve Jobs is the one name put to the rise and rise of Apple – yet his team of innovators is expansive.

And when we think of personal examples of creativity and innovation – big or small – we usually find one idea sparked, with plenty of support to build it into a reality.

Whilst there’s no doubt that certain people are indeed creative wonders, this research does point to a brighter opportunity for businesses.  Rather than waiting or hoping for a creative genius to come along, companies can encourage collaboration and sharing in order to grow their creative output.

Of course that’s not necessarily a simple thing to do, as the research with actors in improvisation highlights that you need each person to be focused on working as part of the team – not out for their own success.  That can be a real challenge in what is often seen to be a high pressure situation: The creative brainstorm.  Egos, concerns over saying the wrong thing, wanting to look good, not wanting to fail – all of that noise will get in the way of strong creative collaboration.

Totem Gummi Bears

What can we do with this information?

Creating a safe space for people to leave their egos, fears and concerns at the door, would be really quite useful for encouraging creativity.  Easier said than done.

If we know that more creativity can come from groups who are focused on the team and effectively collaborating, than that is definitely a starting point.  We need to consider how our organisational culture promotes the individual ego, the drive for personal achievement and how we respond to failure.  If we ask a few people how things work around here – do they talk about teamwork, true collaboration and a focus on learning from failure?  Or do they talk about hardworking silos of people who do everything they can to succeed and hate to admit or explore (“dwell on”) failure.

Before jumping into the brilliant tools out there for getting the creativity flowing, it seems it’s critical for us to explore and challenge the culture in the business.  How we respond to someone’s crazy idea or failure could make or break creativity before it begins.

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Lessons from Akabusi

Kriss AkabusiLearning from a Legend

I recently had the privilege of joining a client’s annual conference at the ICC in Birmingham and seeing Kriss Akabusi give a motivational speech, perfectly aligned to the company’s vision and strategy.

Kriss kept on repeating the need for passion, pride and a can-do attitude as he told stories of his life and prompted us all to be an inspiration for others.

Here were his big messages…

I believe in you

Has anyone ever said those immortal words to you? Have you ever said them to anyone? Imagine the impact we can have on our families, friends and colleagues when we tell them we believe in their potential.  Who could you go to today and say “I believe in you”?

What does ‘success’ mean?

Roger Black totally transformed Kriss Akabusi’s way of thinking.  Before Roger, Kriss always thought of going to the Olympic games as a great success.  Then Roger came along and asked what the world record was.  He wanted to win, and win big.  What do you define as success?  What could be a totally different view that might change your thinking?  Could you dream bigger, or even dream a different dream altogether?  Who could challenge you to think differently?  And who could you challenge to redefine success?

We’ll cross the line together

If you weren’t there to remember it, you’ve probably seen footage of the amazing and heartbreaking moment Jim Redmond joined his son Derek on the race track.  Derek Redmond was all set to break the World Record when his hamstring snapped in the third race.  His definition of success suddenly transformed… Now instead of the world record, all he wanted to do was cross the line.  Father Jim raced to his son’s side to tell him he didn’t have to do this, but Derek was set on it, he had to cross the line. “OK son,” Jim said, “we’ll cross the line together.”

When things get really tough, what would it mean for you to get alongside your family, friends or team, and cross the line together?  Are there people you know who could do with that support right now?  How could you help?

A great speaker, and a brilliant message.  And one final thought – Kriss put up a challenge for us all…

The past is for reference, not for residence.

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The Importance of Feeling Earnest

s040163 400x265Why bother with Emotional Intelligence?

Who do you think of when asked about great leaders from the past?  Nelson?  Churchill?  These leaders were bold, brave and tough.  They showed a great sense of purpose and resolve.  There was no messing with them!  But I imagine that they were quite difficult to get along with.

Today the qualities required of leaders are very different.  They are required to lead a workforce that expects to be empowered and consulted.  They must provide opportunities for growth, challenge and development.  All the while, leaders must be ready to take full responsibility when things go wrong.

Clearly success requires more than traditional skills & intelligence (IQ).  This is true of leaders, managers and every member of the workforce.  Each person needs to deal with the emotions related to their work, both their own and others.

“The greatest ability in business is to get along with others & influence their actions.” – John Hancock

This is where the concept of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) comes in.  Originally coined by two American psychologists, John Mayer & Peter Salovey, they defined Emotional Intelligence as:

The ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.

According to Daniel Goleman, competency research in over 200 companies and organizations worldwide suggests that about one third of the difference in job performance is due to technical skill and cognitive ability while the remaining two thirds is due to emotional competence.  In top leadership positions, over four fifths of the difference is due to emotional competence.

There are 4 main elements of Emotional Intelligence:

  • Perceiving emotions – the ability to perceive emotions in oneself & others as well as in objects, art & events.
  • Using emotions – the ability to generate, use and feel emotion to communicate feelings or employ them in thinking or creating.
  • Understanding emotions – the ability to understand emotional information, how emotions combine and progress and to reason about such emotional meanings.
  • Managing emotions – the ability to regulate emotions in oneself and others so as to promote personal understanding and growth.

The key thing is that each of these elements can be developed.  Knowing your strengths and weaknesses now enables you to decide which areas need further work.  You have the ability to improve your EQ.

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Being Happy

totem-3happy-400x265Make It Work For You!

There is a lot of research and a range of postulations about the nature of happiness out there.   Some people say that it is just a hedonistic pursuit and unrealistic or certainly unlikely to be sustainable.

Others suggest that being happy has a real impact on what you do in the workplace.  Our review highlights three characteristics that are seemingly common to published theories and conceptualisations of happiness:

  1. Positive relationships – that help to create an enjoyable and productive environment
  2. Personal growth – that help increase our competence and ability to deal with challenges
  3. Positive mind-set – creating our lens and helping us to get the most out of every situation

Our happiness appears to really impact our productivity and the contributions that we make at work plus it creates a sense of inner harmony and peace so developing these three areas will be worth it.

Positive relationships are characterised by trust.  We can build trust with people by developing: credibility – showing skill and dedication to our activity; respect – acknowledging others’ input and viewpoints; and fairness – by treating people consistently and explaining the reasons for our actions.

Unsurprisingly, we have these fabulous articles on trust here and here!

Personal growth is about developing our skills and competence as well as fulfilling our potential.  So we can look for opportunities to develop ourselves and enhance our skills.   There are so many ways we can do that but taking a step back and understanding the purpose in what we are doing can help bring some growth and fulfilment to even the smallest of tasks.

That step back is also part of the lens or mind-set that we have.  Your mind-set can change how you interpret the world so that even troublesome situations or repetitive tasks can contribute to our happiness.   Dedicating ourselves to constant learning, recognising our own personal impact on our current context and challenging ourselves to see the bigger picture are all signals of a positive mind-set.

So if you’re not feeling too happy at work today, reflect on those three factors:

  • What interactions have you had today? How can you make them more positive?
  • Can you identify what you have done to develop today? What have you learnt?
  • Could you interpret things differently? What has been your personal impact today?
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Understanding Leadership

underleader1By Tom Marshall

Understanding Leadership is a brilliant book for leaders written by Tom Marshall.

It came to our attention because of a recommendation by Ken Blanchard, the author of The One Minute Manager (amongst others!).  It was described as the best management book he had read in a decade, so naturally our attention was piqued!

It’s a little unusual in that it’s written from a Christian perspective and focuses heavily on the principles of Servant Leadership.  Tom Marshall heavily influenced the early progress of YWAM (Youth with a Mission) which includes people from over 180 countries, over 18,000 full-time volunteers and the training of 25,000 missions volunteers annually.  He managed a fair few people…

His book Understanding Leadership describes how and why leadership is distinct from management or administration and offers insight on topics such as foresight, trust, criticism, caring, status, timing, failure and honour.

Many of these topics have an incredible amount of relevance in the secular world, and we were drawn to this book because of the unique perspective the author would have on them.  He clearly wasn’t getting paid by the word or to further his career!

The book covered a number of topics but the three that stood out most were Status, Trust and Understanding.

It was quite remarkable that these three themes became so inter linked over the course of the book.  Status in particular is held in great esteem by a number of our leaders.  The benefits package, the car parking space all serve to elevate the status of a leader whilst distinguishing and to some degree separating those leaders from the rest of an organisation.

Amongst the consequences he explores to this separation, is the degradation of trust in our leaders.  If they are removed and elevated from the daily grind of an organisation’s work, how can people within that organisation truly trust their leader’s motivations.  And if we’re sceptical of our leaders motivations, how are we likely to feel about their vision for the organisation?  Or even engage with it?

He wraps up with the exploration of understanding, developing a shared meaning on a number of points between leaders and the organisations they lead.  Shared meaning is a fascinating topic at the moment and this book goes some way to exploring the connection between trust and understanding one another.

What sticks with us the most is a quote used towards the end of the book:

I cannot care for somebody I do not know, because I may totally misunderstand what their needs are;  I cannot trust somebody I do not know, because that trust may prove to be sheer and reckless presumption;  I cannot truly honour somebody I do not know, because it would be like giving value to an unknown quantity.

Placed into the heart of a leadership context, this statement would have quite a revolutionary impact on the behaviours of our leaders.

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