Help! My boss is a perfectionist! — 2.12

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Today’s topic is perfectionism, and what to do if you have a perfectionist as a manager. As a strategy consultant, I often encounter situations where the customer’s team has problems with internal cooperation. I had a case, during which the CEO and the management team members were really frustrated. The chairman of the board was a perfectionist, and a perfectionist is never satisfied. I’ll explain, how one should act in situations like this. I hope this is of help to you in your situation!

Pros and cons of perfectionism and a perfectionist manager

Simple drawing of a diamond and text: “+ Creates quality”. This represents the benefit of working with a perfectionist manager.xt: “+ Creates quality”. This represents the benefits one can gain from a perfectionist.

The best thing about a perfectionist manager is that they want quality. If and when they are good, they produce quality. Although, I have had a case in which everything was over-quality. Customers were thankful and the results were pretty good, but there was no growth. That’s not fun. Quality might go overboard. 

Simple drawing of a person who is sweating & text: “– Nothing is enough”. This represents the drawback of working with a perfectionist manager.

The downside of perfectionistic behavior is that nothing is enough. A perfectionist manager will always let you know that something needs to be better. During one case when the management group spoke of customer needs, the CEO didn’t want to listen. They wanted to know about products instead. When the issue of products was then addressed, the CEO wanted to know about customer satisfaction. There was always something that was missing, nothing was enough. Decisions weren’t made, and it was very frustrating to the management group. 

The question is, what is the relief to a situation like this? 


I’m sure you have your own experiences from perfectionists, possibly even your own solutions as well. However, I’ll show you a solution model, which has helped me personally. 

Confirm you have been listening

Simple drawing of a person with a speech bubble speaking. Text: “I see!”. This represents the person confirming that they have been listening.

When the perfectionist manager goes for the “But…” -moment, confirm you have heard what they said!  

I remember that the first time I encountered this was in a company with a CEO called Markku. He had a management team full of extremely smart scholar men. The company had developed a culture, in which the management team was very critical and it felt like everyone was competing about who was the smartest and who can list all the disadvantages the quickest. Markku was really skillful! Even though the critique sounded pretty aggressive to my ear, Markku continued with a question: 

“Do you mean that…” 

And when he phrased the other person’s message in his own words, the other person nodded. This most definitely doesn’t mean that Markku always agreed with them. It meant that he had understood the other person’s message, which in turn made them relax. 

I had a similar experience when I was young – if you know me, I always go towards new possibilities. One colleague of mine only saw the dangers in every situation. However, one day I understood to say: 

“Listen, Matti, if we do nothing we will go down for sure.” 

That was the first time Matti ever nodded at my comment. 

One must listen to what the other person is saying and repeat it so that they can relax, knowing the information has gone through. 

Match or Mismatch?

Text: “Match-mismatch”

You need to understand if a person’s way of thinking is a match or a mismatch. Are you someone who looks at a beer bottle and realizes that half of it has been drunk, or are you someone who rejoices over the fact that there’s still half of it left? Both of these mindsets have their perks. Both are needed because if we don’t see the missing things, the gaps, how are we able to fill them up? However, this can also create distress. A person that wishes to rejoice over achievements can truly become frustrated if the only thing they constantly hear from a CEO is that something is lacking. Nothing is enough, and more is expected!  

It has helped me a lot when I have realized someone behaves as a mismatch. 

I had another project during which a guy said that they lack this, this, and that. I thought to myself that his brain generated a mismatch-type. Also, I got a strong feeling that it was important for him to be heard. If a mismatch is combined with a so-called Ego-boy feature, meaning you want to let your ego out, it can be very straining to others. 

You can't change another person's way of processing information

Drawing of two persons. One has a mess in the head the other has clear structure, conveying that people process information differently.

You can’t change another person’s way of processing information. If you have a perfectionist as a manager and they behave as a mismatch, that’s the way it is. If their thoughts are a bowl of spaghetti inside their head and yours are well structured, you still can’t go on changing them. You can only ease your situation by understanding. When you understand, there’s no need to get frustrated. Also, in the case of customers, deeply understanding them is essential. It already helps to identify different ways of behaving. 

Mismatch thinker –Master of the next step

Drawing of six shoeprints. This image represents a person mastering the next steps of the mismatch thinker process.

A mismatch is a master of the next step. This sentence has helped me not to get irritated. When we have made it two steps forward, they don’t necessarily give thanks like a matching person. They think one should be one more step ahead. They do give thanks; one just needs to know to listen to it among the things that need to be fixed. 

Drawing of a person cheering and a sun. Text: “Hear the part in which they tank you”

Hear the part in which they thank you! If it’s important to you, take it in, because they mean it. Then comes the next step – take the missing part as it is. 

Drawing of a person cheering and a sun. Text: “Hear the part in which they tank you”

Behind every behaviour is a good intention

Behind every behavior is a good intention. This is a dogma from NLP coaching, which I studied a lot some time ago. The idea is that the person pointing out the black cloud also wants to get rid of the black cloud. They have a good intention behind the fact that they point it out. You both have a good intention, and you’re both heading towards the sun. When you understand that every behavior is based on a good intention, it’s a relieving thought.  

If you yourself are a perfectionist or a mismatch, remember it can lower other people’s energy levels. It’s also a problem if people retreat into their foxholes and think that a person will never change. That’s a conundrum of a situation. A good way to get out of it is to understand the benefit of both parties’ thought processes.   

When we create a strategy, it’s very important also to see the risks and prepare for them, even if they come in the shape of a perfectionist manager. 

However, the most important thing is to focus on the Purpose – the sun– how we help our customers. What is it that customers want from us? If we didn’t exist, what would they cry for? It’s our purpose that excites all parties. 

Ignite your strategy by understanding mismatch behavior!

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