Monday, March 23, 2009

Leadership Poison

Sheila (not her real name) is a hard-working, faithful leader who loves the people she leads. Her supervisor commented to me about Sheila's effectiveness.

"I keep hearing about another side of Sheila," I said. "I don't know exactly why, but evidence is mounting that she is very critical of the people she works with."

"I thought it was just me," said the supervisor. "I know that Sheila has a problem with me, but I figured it was just a personality clash. I let it go because she seems so well-liked by the group she is responsible for."

We continued our conversation and the supervisor acknowledged that Sheila, while she has some great skills, has regularly repelled co-workers. She has had some very good team members at her side, but they keep leaving. Why? Sheila is a perfectionist complainer.

She is good at what she does and holds herself to a very high standard. That makes it easy for her supervisors to ignore her dark side. Her perfectionism and her frequent complaints about other people gradually cause her coworkers to lose heart and quit. The problem: they don't say why they're leaving. Sheila is so polished in her work that they don't dare speak ill of her. They may not even be aware of why it's so difficult to continue serving with her.

Perfectionism makes Sheila blind to her own weakness. Consequently, she isn't very "coachable." It doesn't seem likely that she will change because she genuinely thinks the rapid loss of team members is from their lack of commitment. If she doesn't change, she becomes too much of a liability and must be asked to step down.

Leadership author John Maxwell says that "Attitude Skills" are essential for good leaders. When someone fails to maintain a positive attitude, they are "Leadership Poison."

What is your experience with "perfectionist complainers?"


Rachel Cotterill said...

I learnt a very important (to me) lesson as an undergraduate. I used to be an extreme perfectionist, but then I realised that putting in extra hours to 'perfect' my work wasn't getting me any extra grades. I adopted a strategy of "just good enough" and that gave me a lot more time in my day to do other things. I've come to understand that there's a required level for all things: I was brought up hearing "try your best" but subsequently learnt that sometimes, my not-quite-best is still perfectly good enough but more relaxed.

Jailer said...

This brings out another problem--those who believe they have achieved spiritual perfection. I have met a couple of folks like this, including at least one pastor. The things that come to the surface quickly are that they take a very shallow, dos-and-don'ts view of sin, and that they are impossible to correct on any matter.
Moreover, they have a hard time connecting. I remember when a baby in the pastor's church died of crib death, the service was one of the most alarmingly cold and disturbing I've ever seen. He basically preached a cookie-cutter salvation message right past this devastated family. He seemed to have no clue how badly this traumatized them.

Sam said...

Thanks, Rachel, for helping keep this one in balance. Ray, I felt cold as I read your description of the funeral. I have done a few children's funerals and shudder to imagine how hard that one must have been for everyone -- especially the family.