Coaching To Perfection Might Be A Bad Idea

Puzzle Coaching To Perfection Might Be A Bad Idea

Since I have been writing my blog, it is almost always on my mind. Seeing related discussions online, whether it is on LinkedIn or Twitter or other websites, I constantly carry around a proverbial little piece of paper with me to write down some interesting ideas to blog about.

About finding efficiency and work-life balance by getting up so early in the morning that I for myself almost can’t imagine it creating any balance in my life (I only speak for myself here). I also encounter a lot of articles about successful women in the boardroom, some of them facing the challenges of being as well an entrepreneur as a single mom. There is so much interesting content on leadership, even on how to lead those you don’t like, understanding them as well as yourself, knowing those irritating you are in fact the ones you can learn the most from.

From simplifying to expanding. It seems like there is no topic without a blog somewhere. But one little quote grabbed my personal attention: “The real world doesn’t reward perfectionists. It rewards people who get things done.” (Tweeted by @Addictd2Success)

Yes, I am a perfectionist. People who know me well will no doubt be smiling reading this. As probably a lot of you, my biggest challenge in leadership has always been not wanting to do everything myself. Only because I am the only one who has a small chance of reaching my own high standards of course ;-) You can stop smiling know. Why? Because recently Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs opened my eyes.

As a participant in an MBTI/Alti training, that is the personality test I use in my development center at the beginning of an executive Coaching, our trainer asked me and a fellow student to participate in a small experiment. Both of us had to make a puzzle, separated from each other, working in different rooms. A children’s puzzle, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Two puzzles, two neutral observers. Piece of cake I thought.

Being the perfectionist I am, I came up with everything I ever learned about efficiency in puzzling. I sorted the 4 corners, the edges and the inner pieces. I even looked at the example on the box. Meanwhile I told my observer extensively about how and where I learned these tricks. It felt as if I was really getting somewhere. After some time we had to stop puzzling and I could have a look at the puzzle of my fellow student. I was not even half-way and to be honest it didn’t really match the picture on the box. Hers was almost entirely made. Where did I go wrong?

The perfectionist in me was absolutely disappointed. Oh, did I forget to mention my competitive spirit? But the thing is, even our trainer was surprised. Not only at my poor performance but mostly at my approach. He explained he chose me as a guinea pig because he was convinced I would have used another approach. This expected approach should have been as successful as the structured one my colleague used.

And then suddenly it hit me. I am not a structured person at all. Maybe you have noticed above, but my paper to write my blogging ideas on, isn’t a paper at all. Every time I would need to write something down, I wouldn’t find it if it was! I am a creative person, thinking in visuals, creating in my head. I don’t get up at 4.30 in the morning only to be more efficient, and I need the pressure of an expiring deadline just to work at my maximum performance level. So the skills I used to make my puzzle weren’t fitting my personality at all. I so much wanted to be this perfectionist that uses proven methods towards success that I really failed the test!

Amazed as I was, I took the same puzzle home and asked my 7-year old daughter to make it. Normally I would have coached her in finding the 4 corners first, and then the edges. But this time I didn’t because of it being part two of the experiment. And then it happened. She started composing one Dwarf, and then another, and 5 more. No corners, no edges, no inner pieces, no looking at the box, no learned methods. Just using her very own strengths. This way she was achieving the desired outcome. One Snow White and Seven Dwarfs.

As a manager, I have made this same mistake before. In my career, I learned to use a lot of techniques, leadership techniques, sales techniques, presentation techniques, networking techniques. Thinking blue instead of my yellow. Not a single mom, but a woman in a boardroom. Because that’s what people expect when you are in a career. Because that’s what people expect when you are working at an executive level.

What Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs learned me as an executive Coach? Working with my clients is not about working towards the “perfect” way of behaving at all. It is not about being a perfectionist in everything you do. It is about staying true to yourself, your own qualities and who you really are. So no more puzzling instructions, but finding out what works the best for you when enhancing your efficiency as an executive.

Just getting that job done, your way!

Sofie Varrewaere is the founder of After studying a Master in Psychological and Pedagogical Sciences, she ogled into the magical world of Recruitment, Selection and HR Services. Working for the world leader in HR, she has always been in an advisory role in relation to the larger goals of several multinational organizations. In 2013 she started her own company in International executive Coaching. Doing what she is good at, challenging others as well as herself.

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