An Encounter With The Perfectionist (Or, The Power Of Words)

Performance review time.

“You know I am a perfectionist.” The Boss, giving me a 4 out of 5 for the thing I’d worked hard on for 6 months.

“I know.” Me, pausing, wondering whether I would be brave enough to say the rest. “It means nothing I do will ever be good enough for you.”

“What?”

“You’re a perfectionist, and you always see what’s wrong, irrespective of what’s right.”

I will be honest. I thought he would tell me off, maybe even fire me, but he didn’t. The next morning, he made me a cup of tea when I arrived – the way I did for him every day. Turns out, he appreciated my honesty. Turns out, it took a situation that was near breaking point (the Boss was a perfectionist, and I was his PA and secretary to a management team of 6 with everybody thinking their work for me was the most important) and fixed it. One sentence opened everything up; one sentence made all the difference.

That’s the power of words.

That one sentence meant that The Boss changed the way he managed. Instead of trying to point out everything that I did wrong, he let me on his team – he showed me what he was trying to do. Suddenly, I could tell him about the competing demands for my attention, the unrealistic deadlines, the problems that I could see looming. I could help him get out of meetings, and I could learn the lessons that would help him become a better manager. He became a better manager because that day he stopped seeing me as a role, and started seeing me as a person.

And he passed on some of the lessons that he learned. Like the time his boss said to him “What makes you think your time is more important than mine?” (from which I learnt that the demands on my life are not more important than the demands on yours, just because they’re mine). Or the time the big boss took him on a tour of India, and he came back buzzing about “don’t just sell the company, sell the country” (from which I learnt, there is always a bigger perspective).

Looking back, I think summoning my courage to speak up that day, when it could have cost me everything, was the start. The start of me looking problems straight in the face and naming them for what they are – problems, but also opportunities to do it better. If you name it, then you’re on your way to dealing with it.

That’s the power of words. That’s the real reason I write.

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