Supervising Perfectionism (Holy Hints)

According to (my anxious womanfavorite word place), perfectionism is defined as, “a personal standard, attitude, or philosophy that demands perfection and rejects anything less.”

The key to me in this definition is “rejects anything less.” Here is where we can get into a tailspin in the work place.

I want to turn my attention not to those of us who strive for perfection, but to those of us who supervise employees who practice “perfectionism” in the work place. What does this behavior look like?

After supervising in the work world for 20 years, I have seen my share of perfectionism in the work place. When a staff member does not turn in a project for fear it is not perfectly executed, red flags start waving. Sometimes it comes in the form of missed deadlines, requests for specific and detailed instructions, agony and anxiety over a project or program to the point of confusion, chaos, and repeated instruction…The list could go on and on…

I have seen perfectionism in the work place. I have experienced this behavior myself. Thank God for the incredible female supervisors over the years, who have helped me with perfectionism, and passed on good supervisory skills to help others who suffer with this unattainable standard.

How do you supervise staff who have perfectionism as the only acceptable standard? How does this play into one’s identity as a beloved daughter of God?

I would like to offer 5 tips to women supervisors, in their supervisory capacity, in dealing with perfectionism in the work place:

1. Give a colleague permission to FAIL. That’s right! Create an environment where failure, within boundaries, is an acceptable teaching method. Besides very few professions I can think of (medical professions, perhaps), teaching and learning through failure is truly a better teacher than the A+ experience. We women supervisors are uniquely positioned, with our feminine hearts, to allow failure, nurture the individual, and help move a person forward.

2. Review deadlines with your employee, but do not provide the perfect roadmap to get to those deadlines. Sometimes employees need room to express their ideas within a project.

3. Is something else going on? Have you checked in lately with your staff member to understand if the confusion and chaos are only work related, or do other conditions exist that contribute to what is going on in the work place? We image the Trinity in the way we nurture relationships, and the ability to know about your employees is one of the strengths women bring to the work world. Some might call this nosey…when I have asked significant questions as a result of perfectionism in the work place, I am able to understand the issues holistically, and bring resources to the table that would assist the staff member. Bringing certain resources to the table sometimes relieves the pressure felt at work, freeing the staff member to perform at excellent levels, without all of the stress.

4. Pray for your staff member. Pray for their specific needs and imperfections. I find that quick prayers right before supervision sessions helps me to see the staff member the way Jesus might see them: broken, needing nurturing and encouragement. Aren’t we all? I have had the best supervisory relationships with supervisors who have told me of their prayers over the years. I know they have my best interest at heart.

5. This is for supervisors who supervise “millennial” employees: It is OK, and in fact part of life, that you do NOT give every minute detail to a project! The younger generation does not want to fail. However, it is imperative for them to move forward in life and in work by learning from their mistakes, their imperfection. This will be very difficult, because society has told these young folks that failure is not an option, and that if you do fail, it is someone else’s fault. Don’t be that target. Love them where they are, listen to them, and guide them lovingly to finding solutions and initiating the steps themselves.

I can’t help but think of Jesus as I write these suggestions. He worked with 12 men who were imperfect, but sought perfectionism. Jesus loved them right where they were, and trusted them with more responsibility than the world would have ever given them. Sometimes they sounded like certain generations (i.e. “Who do you love the most, Jesus!? Who…Who???”), and had to be nurtured and loved in order to focus on what was important.

This is where we can really assist the work place as women. We can use our God-given gifts to impact how staff see their work, understand their work, and perform their work. Gifts such as receptivity, relationship-building, and empathy help us to “aid humanity in not falling,” and perhaps assist others in not sweating perfectionism.

God bless and may the peace that only Christ can bring fill your heart,


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  1. Mary, I really enjoyed this article. I think it applies to men also as we try to tackle the leadership role. In your points, I find that you are pointing to the need for a leader to serve. The greatest leaders in my life have been the few that were servants first. Thanks for the article. It was great timing to me. Larry

    • Thanks, Larry. I am talking mainly about servant leadership. It really is the lens I view leadership through. I do think men can do these same things, for sure. Thanks for the follow on the blog! I hope you will find other good articles!


  2. I just came across this post. I’m so glad you’ve written it. Even as being allowed to work fairly independently (or maybe because of it?), these would be especially helpful tips for my boss. And I fear that if I supervised other perfectionists, I wouldn’t be a very good at allowing them to be who God made them to be and excelling as employees at the same time. Thanks so much for sharing this! I linked to your post in my blog:

    • Thank you so much! Thanks for the link, as well.

      I am not “perfect” with supervising perfectionism, by any means. I pray everyday to have the courage to be a better supervisor, especially in a work world overridden with the bottom line.

      Peace of Christ to you!


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