Imagine, if you will, that we are all sitting around a large campfire. You smell the burnt marshmallows as we make s’mores. The sounds of crackling firewood fill your ears. Surrounding us is a dark forest full of trees. Within the darkness, you occasionally think you see a flash of eyes looking back at you or hear an unfamiliar noise.
It’s the perfect time to share horror stories.
Some of the most frightening stories involve times when we find ourselves working with horrible leaders. As I position the flashlight underneath my chin, sit back and listen to these horrific tales about lethal leadership from maniacalmonsters.
Whether cleaning up the street or cleaning up on Wall Street, truly dedicated professionals always try their best. After completing a task and knowing they have given it their all, they often feel proud of their accomplishment, and rightfully so.
However, when working for Perfectionist Predators, everyone’s best will never be good enough.
The only way to appease Perfectionist Predators is to be error free, 100% of the time. Delays or adjustments to project timelines are unacceptable. Even the smallest of errors will not be tolerated. Under the lethal leadership of Perfectionist Predators, nothing is good enough unless it is perfect.
They not only look for weaknesses in performance; they focus on them. Perfectionist Predators hone in on weaknesses so strongly that they mainly criticize and never praise their team members.
What is even worse is that for many jobs, perfection is relative. Unless clearly defined, the definition of “perfection” likely will vary from person to person and project to project. It’s a moving target that is often unidentified.
While ultimately their hearts may be in the right place, Perfectionist Predators often do not know how to pick their battles. Although “acceptable” should not be the end goal or common standard for all projects, having the ability to prioritize tasks allows everyone to best use their time. Perfectionist Predators have a difficult time recognizing the difference between inconsequential and important work. They often believe the smallest element can make or break the company and will drive their team to use valued energy on the most insignificant detail.
Perfectionist Predators set such a high bar for success that it is unattainable. Those they lead lose motivation because the likelihood of performing perfectly is slim. They get scared to even try. Ultimately, this type of lethal leadership kills team productivity and morale.
What If You’re a Perfectionist Predator?
The description of a Perfectionist Predator may sound familiar because you work for one or perhaps you are one yourself. Although you can’t necessarily change leaders who are Perfectionist Predators, you can work on ways to change these monstrous habits in yourself.
- Stop Comparing.
Your initial idea of what is perfect may not actually be accurate or meeting the full potential of your team. By releasing your own concept of perfection, you give your team members room to use their skills, knowledge and expertise to produce something even better than what you had imagined. Stop yourself from comparing the end result to what you believe is perfect and work with your team to achieve excellence as you all synergically define it.
- Prioritize Tasks.
Evaluate the workload of your team. Make honest decisions about the projects that are essential. Identify those that could greatly damage the team or the company if not done with extreme excellence. Select the ones that require the most attention and highest degree of success and share that expectation with the team. Focus less on the smaller jobs that can be completed efficiently without demanding full perfection.
- Equip Your Team.
Provide your team members with the support, resources, time and information that will help them deliver. If a performance gap occurs, remind yourself that those are normal and use the instance as a teachable moment.
Perfectionist Predators can be their own worst enemy. Don’t allow yourself to stand in your own way.
A friend once shared a horrifying story with me.
In a staff meeting, the leadership team was discussing how morale was dipping in the organization. Supporting team members felt uninvolved, uninformed and unappreciated.
“We need to show the team members that we appreciate them,” one executive said.
A C-Suite leader said, “You know who I show I appreciate them? I pay them every two weeks. They should be grateful for that.”
Ungrateful Ghouls will scare off even the most talented members of your team. When employees of a company start seeing that their work is not recognized, valued or honored, they will likely start looking for places that will. Even in today’s uncertain markets, finding companies that show their gratitude for their team members are easy to find. They will gladly welcome those fleeing from Ungrateful Ghouls. In doing so, organizations can lose some of their very best people… all for not properly thanking them.
Considering the amount of time and energy team members contribute to the success of the company, employees deserve to be rewarded and recognized, especially in today’s world of added stress. Don’t allow Ungrateful Ghouls to haunt your organization with their lethal leadership and drive your highly-prized team members away screaming.
What If You’re an Ungrateful Ghoul?
If you don’t work for an Ungrateful Ghoul, you should feel thankful. If you are an Ungrateful Ghoul, there are steps you can take to change your ways.
- Check Your Pride.
Consider reasons why gratitude doesn’t seem to be an initial response. Is it because sharing credit is a challenge for you? Does it seem unnecessary to thank individuals for fulfilling their job responsibilities? Ask yourself tough questions to see what serve as barriers to you telling your team members you appreciate them and their contributions. Find ways to reprogram yourself to overcome these hindrances to gratefulness.
- Delegate Gratitude.
If thankfulness doesn’t come naturally to you, find a trusted person on your team to manage that part of your culture. Charge someone to be your Officer of Appreciation. Ask them to provide support in consistently demonstrating appreciation to team members. Ensure that the recognitions happen frequently enough that your team identifies it as a part of the culture but not too often where they carry no significance.
- Make It Special.
Depending on the budget, the acts of gratitude can range from luxurious incentive trips to high-end resorts (post-pandemic) to simple $5 gift cards for coffee. To effectively show appreciation, truly know the people you are thanking including what they enjoy and value. Learn about their life outside of the office and connect the gift to those interests. This requires time visiting with them, learning about them and remembering what they share. When they receive the “thank you,” they will both appreciate the token and be impressed that you truly saw who they are. Remember that xpressions of gratitude do not always have to be in the form of gifts. Company-wide acknowledgements of excellent performance cost nothing and serve as major investments in the relationships with your team members.
Whether telling ghosts stories around a campfire or considering all the horror movies ever made, we all know there are more than just two monsters out there. In the second part of this series on Lethal Leadership, we’ll talk about Disappearing Demons and Blaming Beasts – two other leadership styles that can kill a team.