Perfectionism and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies
Thoroughness and accuracy are useful to reach good performance in work, but if this “paradigm” it is not managed in a good way could be also so stressful and fustrating for teams and could become a way to lead toward failure rather than to the success. Giovanna D’Alessio, expert in organizational culture transformations, shares in this post an interesting point of view about it and clarifies how our convictions model the reality.
Perfectionism and self-fulfilling prophecies
Very often when I work with company managers, a typical behaviour which prevents them from getting the best out of the people they manage is wanting to control everything. Huge amounts of time and energy are spent (by the manager and their colleagues), to then discover that the job done isn’t perfect, as they themselves would have done it (sound familiar?). These managers believe in the value of perfection, they pride themselves on doing an impeccable job, they love precision and completeness. They have very high expectations of themselves and others.
This need for constant control could come from a desire for perfection. In order not to risk what they may perceive as wrong or a failure, the manager puts pressure on – and controls – the people who work alongside them, limiting their creativity and the risk inherent in each new task.
In the office, the manager’s quest for perfection makes life difficult for whoever works with him or her. The manager doesn’t trust others because they think no one else can do a perfect job like they can and they put a lot of pressure on everyone, all the time. Their paradigm is: “No one knows how to do it like me.” They truly believe in this. And with this paradigm of theirs, with this conviction, they observe their reality.
When their colleagues deliver, what do you think happens? They go and check that the colleagues have done exactly what they would have done themselves. They will find mistakes, make comments, they won’t be able to accept different ideas, even innovative ones, which are different from the way they would have done it (which is perfect). So they will act in line with their paradigm.
Focusing their attention on the errors and shortcomings in the work carried out by colleagues, our protagonist will get exactly what they expect, that is that the work is not as good as they would have done and this will merely serve to reinforce their paradigm. And so their thoughts become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In the long term colleagues, knowing what they’re up against and remembering the feeling of frustration when their efforts were not appreciated, will tire of doing their best. They already know that whatever they deliver won’t be right. They will put less effort into their work. And so the cycle perpetuates itself.
This example is typical of many entrepreneurs and managers who mention during coaching conversations the fact that their colleagues don’t always meet their expectations. Instead of reflecting on the way they are creating their reality, they are convinced that the other people are creating the problem.
Some very interesting experiments have been carried out in American schools, inspired by Harvard Professor Robert Rosenthal’s studies on the “Pygmalion effect”. Two groups of teachers are given two groups of students. The teachers don’t know that the students have been randomly selected. The teachers of one group are told that the students they will teach are particularly gifted, with a very high IQ. At the end of the year the students whose teachers had high expectations of them achieved above-average learning and growth results; whereas the results of the other group of students were lower than average. The way we see reality and the way we think about the capacity of others – and therefore our expectations – influence reality.
I suppose, even without having carried out experiments, that this mirrors the way we think about our own capacity. On the basis of what we think we value or know how to do, we create a series of behaviours which confirms our convictions and create self-fulfilling prophecies.