Perfectionism: Great on paper, but…

In a big new job at Forbes magazine in New York, an editorial manager decided that she was going to be the “perfect” boss.

She made lists and flowcharts and set clear rules and high expectations. She asked her staff of eight to schedule all meetings in advance, and kept her door shut so she could concentrate on her work. She arrived early, left late and skipped lunch. She color-coded files, alphabetized lists and set up a system for tracking assignments.

The guy who hired her wasn’t impressed.

“He was a tough, grizzled newsman,” she says, “and when he put you on the hot seat you knew it. He glared at me for what felt like an hour. Then he said, ‘As a manager here you define yourself by the way you extend yourself. You have to create your own management style—your own legacy in your own time.’ He stopped. I knew what was coming, but nothing can prepare you. He said, ‘I don’t think I’m getting my money’s worth. I hired you because I thought you were going to be a brilliant manager, and you’re not.’ ”

She waited for the ax to fall. Instead, he said, “I know you want to be a creative manager.” He was going to give her another chance.

Tough Talks D

Change is tough, but she did it. She dropped the illusion of perfection and developed a degree of flexibility that felt uncomfortable to her.

First, she came out of hiding. She began venturing out of her office, leaving the phone and email to walk around and talk with people in person. She left her door open. She encouraged people to bring her their problems and ideas. She listened. She addressed problems head-on. Most of all, she learned that failure is not the end of the road; sometimes it helps you cut a new road.

— Adapted from Gaining, Aimee Liu, Wellness Central.