… stop being a do-it-all

About 4 ½ years ago, I wrote a piece for At C-Level about being a Recovering Perfectionist. I thought I knew everything there was from personal experience about helping others over their perfectionist addiction. It’s simple, right? It’s just a matter of reframing success.

At the time, I readily admitted I was a controlling perfectionist and even enlisted some friends and family to keep me from slipping back to my old ways. Not the best idea I’ve ever come up with.

I’m not sure I’ve gotten any better. While I may never stop noticing when someone fails to live up to my unreasonable expectations, it’s been a fairly simple matter to stop bringing it to their attention. Like I’m doing them a favor letting them go about their day in blissful ignorance.

The problem? I’ve become a do-it-all.

Know-it-alls are annoying right to your face. In the military, we called them springbutts… the kind of people that spring to their feet in order to be the first with an answer. Often wrong but never in doubt. You probably have a couple in the office. Always seeking attention and validation, they’re just plain annoying.

Do-it-alls, on the other hand, are not always looking for attention… not overtly anyway. You can spot them when they grudgingly raising their hands and say, “I’ll do it.” And, while there are do-it-alls at every level of an organization, a do-it-all in a senior leadership position can absolutely cripple an otherwise high-performing team.

What does all that have to do with a perfectionism addict like me? Well, that’s my selfless motivation obviously. I know the task won’t be fun, but I’ll be doing it to my high standards which will make it better than if anyone else tried to do it. The problem comes when a leader tries to do it all and wastes their time ‘doing’ instead of leading.

Doing neither well, the do-it-all in them doesn’t get it all done on time, while the leader in them doesn’t see the negative effect it has on the team’s productivity. That only makes them feel more guilty and inadequate because they can’t do it all the way they want… and that makes them damned hard to work for (and live with). Face it, it’s impossible to meet all the demands created by our own unreasonable expectations. “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself” is a lie.

So stop being a do-it-all. Here’s how

First, prune yourself. Like a tree that yields better fruit when the less productive branches are cut away, take stock of the things you’re doing and cut away the tasks someone else can do (aka delegate or empower others) – even if it’s painful because they’re not being done at the A+ level. Just DON’T delegate to another do-it-all at the next level, and don’t forget to let others know you won’t be doing it in the future.

After the pruning comes reframing success. We have to stop expecting perfection! We’re imperfect human beings who will be much happier without the regular beatings we give ourselves for not being ‘good enough’ (whatever that is). Some examples: Is fully compliant and on time successful? How about getting a message across effectively, kinda like giving the time without the instructions for building a watch? How about the board reaching the desired decision after your presentation – even if you missed a well-rehearsed point or two? Yes, we all strive to do our best, but we can’t be our best when we’re weary from carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders.

Next, give yourself a cookie. Reward success. A pat on the back, a shout out during a staff meeting, an actual lunch break, or even a walk around the production floor just to talk to and check on others. Whatever gives the successful person (or us) a few minutes to bask in the afterglow of a job well done. Too often we jump into the very next ‘have to’ or ‘need to’ without purging our minds of the ‘should haves’ or ‘could haves’ that come with wondering if the task just completed was good enough. That’s the perfectionist in us rearing its ugly head.

Finally, stop babysitting other people’s monkeys. (Yeah, I’ve got some weird analogies.) We’re all ringmasters of our own circuses. After eight months of the craziest year I’ve ever seen, it feels like my 3-ring circus has been crammed into a single pup tent… lions, bears and elephants included. There’s barely enough room for the monkeys I carry on my own back, much less for other people’s monkeys. Just a colorful way of saying be careful which problems you try to help solve for other people. Being a solve-it-all will get us to the same unhappy place as being a do-it-all will.

Do-it-alls eventually become complainers because we’re so busy and no one ever helps us and we never get the credit we deserve. Got a little personal there, sorry. My mother tells me, “you kinda brought that on yourself,” and no truer words have been spoken. To me, anyway.

How about you? Can you spot the do-it-alls in your organization? Do them a favor and teach them how to be successful without trying to do it all perfectly. It’s a lifesaving skill that’s worth sharing.

It’s up to you, leaders… just not all of it.

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