How to delegate when you’re a die-hard perfectionist

As a senior director at a fintech company, Adrianna’s identity was deeply intertwined with the quality of her work. Although her focus on excellence had helped build a multi-million dollar business unit, she moved through her day as if it were her duty to execute on every task, even if it was below her responsibility level. Adrianna came to me for coaching because she felt frustrated and resentful. She was sick of working fifty hour weeks, and due to a mandate from the CEO, she needed to focus on strategy first and foremost. When I asked about her approach to delegation, Adrianna—who’s a self-professed perfectionist—laughed nervously and said, “I’m a control freak. I have trouble letting go. I want to make sure the work gets done right.”

If Adrianna’s story sounds familiar, you’re far from alone. Studies show perfectionism—or the behavior of striving for unrealistically high standards—is on the rise. While a drive to exceed expectations is admirable, perfectionism can lead to excess self-criticism✎ EditSignpoorer quality of workplace performance, and more serious consequences like burnout✎ EditSign and depression.

Like Adrianna, perfectionists with Type A personalities tend to be so exacting, they have trouble delegating. For example, they may hoard assignments, spend time tweaking unimportant details, or micromanage, all of which leads to exhaustion and overworking for the individual and low morale for the team. Poor delegation can also hinder business results. In 2014, a Gallup research team found that companies led by strong delegators achieved higher overall growth compared to companies whose leaders delegated less.

It’s clear that delegation is an essential leadership skill, especially if you want to drive better results and achieve greater work-life balance. It’s entirely possible to aspire to excellence without striving for unrealistic standards. If you’re a perfectionist, here’s how to get more comfortable letting go, without sacrificing quality.


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