As anyone who has led a team knows, being an effective manager involves more than making sure work gets done and goals are met. But for perfectionists, those aspects of the job can be especially challenging — because the only way to guarantee that everything is up to their standards is to do it (or at least carefully check it) themselves. In other words, some perfectionists may have difficulty delegating, and, as a result, find themselves overextended and possibly on the brink of burnout.
This is a problem that Melody Wilding — an executive coach and licensed social worker — addresses regularly with her clients. Based on her experience, she has developed some strategies to help perfectionists learn how to delegate (and then actually go through with it). She recently shared some of these tips in an article for Fast Company. Here’s what to know.
Start with a cost-benefit analysis
Although it’s likely that perfectionists are constantly weighing pros and cons of their decisions at work, Wilding recommends they take a step back and do a similar analysis on themselves and their delegation methods (or lack thereof) — including the impact they can have on colleagues:
Your overfunctioning may be creating a dynamic where others underfunction. When you assume responsibility for doing everything and “fixing” situations, others don’t get the opportunity to step up. Delegation is not a punishment, nor about you “dumping work on people.” Rather, it is a chance for your team and colleagues to learn, grow, and acquire new skills and competencies.
This also includes looking at how their difficulties with delegation are affecting their own mental health, and potentially, opportunities for their own personal growth. Per Wilding:
While you may think trying to do more positions you as a rockstar, a lack of delegation actually signals to senior management that you’re not ready for more responsibility. Highlighting what’s at stake can change your behaviour because humans tend to be motivated by loss.
Understand that it’s not all-or-nothing
In some cases, perfectionists will put something off entirely if they don’t think they’ll be able to meet their (typically self-imposed) high standards — including delegating. But Wilding says it doesn’t have to be a major handover of entire projects: it’s fine to start small and give yourself time to get comfortable to the idea of putting other people in charge of certain tasks. She advises:
Start by choosing a low-stakes task you can delegate first. Try tracking your time for one week to identify candidates for delegation. These include tasks that:
- Are administrative, tedious and take a lot of your time
- Require a straightforward, repeatable process that can be easily taught
- Necessitate a specialised skill set you don’t have
In addition to tasks, also share responsibilities
Though we might think of delegating as telling someone what they need to do, Wilding says that perfectionists should also think of it in terms of giving someone authority to determine how something is accomplished. “This requires you to let go of rigid, perfectionist thinking and the assumption that there is ‘right’ one way to achieve and result,” she writes.