Level Up Your Leadership Skills: Overcoming Perfectionism

Most of us in the library profession are high achievers aren’t we?

Our attention to detail has likely saved that flyer or that web page more than once from putting out incorrect information to a large amount of people. Can you imagine if that error would have gone out? Some of us might start sweating a bit just thinking about it.

Project planning? That’s our specialty! Months ahead we’re already thinking about decorations for the summer learning kickoff program or what the posters will look like for our annual film festival. Closer to the event itself we might even go so far as to lose sleep and take over most of the work ourselves just so we can make sure it’s done ‘right’.

Low attendance to a program? We’re likely mortified! We lose sleep again in thinking about how we could have gotten more teens to attend this author program that was advertised for months. The regular teen visitors even assured you they were coming. What could possibly have gone wrong?

Are you a perfectionist?

While having high expectations isn’t a bad characteristic-it is in fact an even necessary one to some degree if we want to stay relevant to the communities we serve. Having high standards doesn’t have to equate with being a perfectionist but sometimes the lines can get easily blurred.

I wouldn’t be able to write this post if I myself weren’t perfect, right? I don’t have a background in psychology but I definitely have insight into some of the habits that I have to achieve ‘perfection’.

One of the tell tale ways I know my perfectionism gets in the way of performing (i.e. writing, speaking, planning) is that I will procrastinate. No, I’m not spending productive time planning in my head, I’m intensely avoiding the task and finding other things to occupy my time with (my, how long has it been since the house has had a good cleaning?). As you can guess this doesn’t move me closer toward being a strong leader, but with awareness and balance, I can avoid being sucked completely into the sand.

You might also notice some signs in your own behavior of when you’ve entered the ‘perfectionist zone’ and refuse to accept anything less. If you’re not sure, ask your loyal coworkers or the teens you serve and they will probably be nothing short of honest!

If you’re still not sure, here’s a few signs that you might be a perfectionist adapted from the blog post; 10 Ways to Tell if You Are a Perfectionist, accessed September 26, 2015.

-You’re overly critical of mistakes. Not only your own but others as well. While you might be the go to person when it comes to editing the monthly programming calendar, you might also be the colleague that people shy away from if your attention to detail becomes overbearing. Do you catch yourself constantly telling teens to tuck in their shirt or tie their shoes? Some support on their appearance can be welcome but too much might make them want to avoid you.

-You spend a lot of time perfecting something. You might feel like your coworkers are able to manage a lot of balls in the air with planning various programs, going to meetings throughout the day, and still finding time to weed the collection. Your time might be spent on focusing on that Freedom to Read book display for the past two weeks. While it no doubt looks marvelously eye catching, you might be able to even do more if you consider your work on it done.

-You’re more into competing on everything rather than focusing on a few things that deserve your attention. Is your department putting on a fall themed film festival and you each have a different station you’re in charge of? Yours has to be the most festive and popular not to mention the three other unrelated activities that you’re having a contest (with yourself) to be the best at.

While the above examples could be argued for that they don’t get in the way of your accomplishments and in fact seem to fuel your motivation, only you know if they seem to be serving as more of a barrier to getting to that next level that you want to achieve. It’s also important to reflect on how perfectionism might be getting in the way of our relationships with the teens we serve. Being overly critical or harsh toward them or yourself might make them feel they don’t measure up. With all the changes they’re going through, those aren’t qualities that are going to help them grow either!

Why Perfectionism?
Those that are considered perfectionists don’t necessarily overly represent the library profession itself but there might also be some very logical reasons as to why many of us succumb to this as a modus operandi.

We probably have experienced some form of limited resources and budgets. We
may even have experienced so much as being laid off for a period of time. It’s no secret that our profession has been hard hit by the economy. As a result we likely want to push harder and make our relevancy known. Outcomes in attendance as well as how we’re impacting teen lives through knowledge and skill building are now more important than ever before. It’s no surprise in some ways then that we strive to aim for nothing but the best.

Attention to detail is also a trait that many library staff need. From shelving books to writing reports and promoting with flyers or social media posts, accuracy is important and many of us are likely good at it. From this standpoint it’s easy to get too bogged down in the details.

Overcoming Perfectionism
Since you likely have the lyrics memorized to Idina Menzel’s award winning, Let It Go, from the Disney movie Frozen, you’re already halfway there. In case you need to start here, stand in front of the mirror and belt it out. The catchy tune has a way of sticking in your head long after you’re done. In addition, you might also want to consider the following;

Develop an awareness. Listen to ways that your perfectionism might be holding you back or keeping you from developing better relationships with your coworkers, administration and teens. Instead of being overly critical of yourself and the outcomes of a project or a program, be more realistic in noting the whole picture which includes the positive as well.

Find an honest coach who you can trust. Need someone to give you feedback when you feel you’re entering into that zone of trying to ‘be the best’? Ask them beforehand to bring it to your attention-then listen and take their advice!

Get risky. Go where you feel the fear by setting small achievable goals. Does interacting with a particular group of teens give you the shakes because you feel you aren’t ‘good’ enough? Does suggesting change make you cringe because you feel you’ll just ‘mess it up?’ Ask for the support you need to increase your chances of making it a reality. Role play with a trusted coworker or write it down first.

Lead the way. When our perfectionism gets in the way of how we best serve teens, we’re not only limiting our opportunities but theirs as well. In a profession that depends on growth and learning to better serve a changing demographic we can’t afford to be stagnant. Several great YALSA resources to review to begin this journey are; The Future of Library Services For and With Teens Report; and Risky Business: Taking and Managing Risks in Library Services for Teens by Linda Braun, et al. and Core Professional Values for the Teen Services Profession. They all do a great job of suggesting how to be more well-rounded and flexible to effectively serve teens.

What are ways you have noticed your own perfectionism getting in the way of serving teens and how are you learning to overcome it?

About Kelly Czarnecki

Kelly Czarnecki is a Teen Librarian at ImaginOn with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. She is a member of the YALSA blog advisory board.
Bookmark the permalink.

One Comment

  1. Wow, Kelly. This is a great post. Thanks for both the encouragement and insights.

Comments are closed