Perfectionist Pete: Getting Over the Fear of Failing
- John C. Maxwell
- 2001 6 Jul
He's staring at a blank page. It's a huge task, and he can't get past writing the first sentence. It just has to be perfect, and until it is he's not going any further. He has high, unrealistic expectations that cause him to procrastinate. He would rather stare at a blank page than write the wrong thing.
Perfectionist Pete is one of your sharpest people, and his attention to detail is unmatched. It's his rigidity that holds him back. He is hard on himself, and he takes his work personally. If you see fault in his work, you see fault with Pete. It's no wonder he is so stressed out about getting
every detail right. You need to teach Pete how to manage his stress and how to get past his fear of failure.
Take Pete aside and talk to him about being a perfectionist. Listen to him as he expresses the stress he feels. Pete will be emotional about his job because he connects his self-worth to his performance. Let him get it all out -- his discouragement, his frustration -- and don't interrupt. Once Pete has said his peace, it's your turn to talk. Be an encourager. You must show Pete how to become more tolerant of himself and of others. He needs to start seeing himself as more than his work.
... Then Lead
1. Provide Pete with confidence and reassurance. You need to build Pete up. Focus on his strengths, such as his knowledge and the pride he takes in his work. Let him know that you are behind him and his efforts. Express your confidence in his work.
2. Encourage him not to take his mistakes personally. Pete needs to know that just because he might fail at doing something, he is not a failure. Give him examples of great leaders who have failed at one effort but succeeded overall. (Many examples can be found in my book, Failing Forward.)
3. Encourage Pete to take more risks. Right now he is only doing the things that he knows he can do well. He has more potential. You need to stretch Pete by encouraging him to take risks. This goes back to his fear of failure, which needs to be dealt with first.
4. Reward Pete for getting things done on time, even if they are not perfect. You should praise him publicly. In private, review Pete's work with him. Don't ignore the flaws in his work; just don't focus too much on them. Pete needs to be in an encouraging environment, not a critical one.
5. Show Pete the big picture. Let him in on the future of the company and what the goals are. Tell him what his part is in reaching those goals. Pete needs to understand that in order to win the war, we must fight the battles.But we can't just keep aiming - we must fire.
Pete would do well on the ground floor of a project. He is a planner, and you should use that strength. He will think of all the reasons something won't work and all the different ways a task could be done. Your challenge will be getting Pete over his fear of failure. Teach him to work with others
and to accept their flaws as well as his. Pete is an asset to the company - as long as you can keep him producing.