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Grey Leadership



Formerly a brave Jedi Knight, Darth Vader was lured to the evil side of the Force, developed into a Sith Lord, and oversaw the fall of the Empire. He wears all-black armor, including a mask, and exhales with a heavy, labored sound, making him one of the best villains in fiction.


As the Supreme Commander of the Imperial Forces, he does not settle for a decent outcome when he can attain a phenomenal one. He expects his team to work at full pace without deviations. He invests time in planning for a successful execution. Before acting, he waits patiently to gather all the facts to adequately design the strategy. Darth Vader took steps to capitalize on his team's skills and make the most of their strengths after observing deficiencies.


Sound familiar?


If most of these characteristics apply to you, you might be a "Perfectionist," and as a leader, it is best to reevaluate your leadership style.


There are two sides to perfectionism. On the one hand, excellence is demonstrated and frequently achieved. Everyone performs with high caliber which gives a great deal of happiness and a sense of pride. These leaders concentrate on the team's assets and on how to move things forward even when faced with a challenge.


The counterpart of perfectionism is constantly being in the fault-free zone. This is the point where the leader thinks that any subpar results are unacceptable. These leaders prioritize prevention and frequently set performance standards that are beyond what is reasonable. They act more in ways that show their fear of failing than in ways that encourage performance, which frequently has serious repercussions for them, their subordinates, and their organization.


According to a survey of 300 leaders conducted by Fordham University in 50 different organization's across 10 different nations, 30% to 35% of all leaders struggle when they are placed in higher-level positions that call for leadership and instead choose to act like managers. The root cause of this substantial group of underperforming leaders is excessive micromanagement brought on by perfectionist inclinations.


Perfectionists frequently give the impression that their team’s work is never quite good enough. Rich dialogue is an uncommon relic because of this lack of recognition, reporting to a boss with an intense need for control, and their less than open interpersonal style. Being a direct report makes it difficult to feel secure and confident enough to perform at your peak since you never truly know where you stand.


As you would have anticipated, there are a lot of drawbacks for a company as well. Many of these leaders resist change because they are stiff and inflexible, which makes it difficult for them to deal with constantly shifting markets or the demands of internal processes. They miss deadlines because of procrastinating out of a fear of failing in their quest for perfection. Along with the previously mentioned effects, these leaders result in the following in their organization's:

  • Increased turnover rates as talented workers leave

  • Underdeveloped staff whose skill sets are never completely developed

  • Overworked team members who experience greater absenteeism and health-related concerns

  • Peers who avoid interacting because it can be difficult to work together on projects

Here is a crucial action you can take right away if you relate with these and wish to begin the process of changing these behaviors.


Call to Action: Recognise the Grey

Leaders who are perfectionists often oversimplify things, seeing them as simply falling into one of two simple categories, such as right or wrong, black or white, or perfect or not. Check your language for cues like "never," "every time," "completely," "always," and "everyone." Generally, this is a warning indicator of oversimplification.


Start by choosing a performance area that bothers you and that you may be overly simplifying. Make a list of the individual shades that make up the grey and allow yourself to focus on one action at a time. Redefine the spectrum to determine which portions are 25%, 65%, and 80% tincture, rather than just 100% or 0%. The objective is to shift from a binary perspective to a point of view that is more expansive that allows for continuity and iteration. Through this action, you will exercise leadership in a way where success is no longer solely based on perfection.


Darth Vader is a perfect example of the perfectionist leader with some distinctly “winning” qualities. But nothing is ever black or white, to demand it from others is tyranny and to demand it from yourself is tragic.


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If you have an articulate that challenges our thinking on leadership that you would like to contribute to The Leadership Project newsletter, please do not hesitate to reach out to Mick Spiers at mick@mickspiers.com or Rica Vidanes at eirene.vidanes@mickspiers.com

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