School teaches us to believe that preparation is the key to achieving just about anything. Because in fact, the strategy is pretty tried-and-true: a ton of preparation really is the key to success on tests, group projects, presentations, and more.
But when all this preparation carries over into our careers, it can backfire. “Being prepared to perfection is more likely to become perilous when our roles expand and grow,” writes professor Ellen Taaffe in her new book, The Mirrored Door: Break Through the Hidden Barrier that Locks Successful Women in Place.
Though anyone is liable to fall victim to perfectionist tendencies like overpreparing and overdelivering, Taaffe says women are typically conditioned to embrace them. Finding a way out involves accepting imperfection.
This week, we’ll discuss a few strategies for doing just this. Then, we’ll share the results of a fun new study on the importance of speaking out about causes in which we believe.
Deprogramming the perfectionist
To some extent, preparation is a pretty reliable way to advance in a career. But Ellen Taaffe, a clinical professor of management and organizations at Kellogg, says that over-preparing robs us of the ability to grow professionally because we have time for little else. And overpreparation can become a coping mechanism, meaning we may become anxious working on projects that don’t allow us enough lead time to prepare.
The rub, Taaffe says, is that perfectionism won’t be enough to make us good leaders.
“Leaders must be able to decide a course of action with limited information. When we always depend on hours of preparation, we don’t learn how to move forward with partial information and the success or failure that results,” Taaffe says.
Taaffe recommends doing a few exercises to help you curb some of your worst perfectionist tendencies.
Reframe success: When you advance into a leadership position, it can be nearly impossible to deploy the same perfectionist approach you brought to your previous role—you simply have too many new responsibilities. Instead, rethink what success looks like for this new position. If your new role has you responsible for more people, success is delegating to others and finding ways to help them succeed. “To disrupt ourselves, we must rethink perfection and dive into our expectations of the hats we wear,” Taaffe says.
Plan for action, ask for help: If the thought of a bad outcome scares you into inaction, consider establishing (or working with your manager to establish) the criteria on which you will act. Taaffe says, “this could be as simple as determining, for example, that you can move forward if three of five assumptions are proven.” The goal is to free yourself to “move forward with less than perfect information” and disabuse yourself of the notion that you must always deliver bulletproof results.
Reflect on your success: Make it a weekly practice to take a retrospective look at your competence. Taaffe recommends thinking back on your successes, the chances you took, how you recovered from setbacks, and what you would do differently next time if the same setback struck. This kind of reflection can help you ignore your “inner antagonist” and celebrate with clear eyes your wins, losses, and what you learned along the way.
Get real: Don’t be so hard on yourself! Give yourself the empathy to choose progress over perfection. You’d probably do the same for others, so why not yourself?
The case for broadcasting your charitable donation
If the idea of sharing on social media that you’ve made a charitable donation feels too braggadocious for you, you’re not alone. But you might want to do it anyway, because publicizing your donation inspires others to donate as well.
So you need to get over the reputational concern of feeling like a braggart (or if you work in a nonprofit, you will want your donors to get over this reputational concern). The key here is to focus on the cause itself.
In new research, Ike Silver, an assistant professor of marketing at Kellogg, and Deborah Small, a researcher at Yale University, found that when donors were asked to share their donation on social media to promote the cause (rather than simply being asked to share their donation on social media), they clicked the “share” link more often, which increased the likelihood of recruiting at least one more donor to the charity and helped raise more money.
“It showed us that most people are really thinking about their reputation, but that you can change their baseline to consider the cause,” Silver says.
“[Those policies] signal to employees from marginalized backgrounds, or racial minorities, that the companies care about their experiences.”