My perfectionist subordinate is driving me up a wall

The Yomiuri ShimbunDear Troubleshooter:

I’m a man in my 50s. Several months ago I became head of my current department, and since then I’ve been exasperated by a subordinate who’s a total perfectionist.

He demands that every single task be done flawlessly. For example, he points out when my PC documents have improper fonts and line spacing. This isn’t something that hinders our work, but I give in to him and correct the mistakes because he went to the effort of telling me.

He completes his work without a hitch, and has become a central figure in our department. However, he’s very judgmental and constantly hunting for other people’s mistakes, which has become a source of stress in the office. If he were to become a manager, I think he’d wear out his subordinates with his constant demands for perfection, and the office would grind to a halt.

I told him that everyone has a different sense of values and that I wanted him to be a little more forgiving. To this he replied, “I was instructed to maintain the rules in our office manual.” Please tell me how I should handle this problem.

B, Saitama Prefecture

Dear Mr. B:

So you have a perfectionist subordinate who’s dedicated to his work. I guess in some sense you must be pleased, since any task you assign him will return to you error free.

When he corrects the font or spacing on your documents, perhaps you should try telling yourself that if he hadn’t intervened, you might have wound up doing a sloppy job.

However, as the situation now stands I think it’s best that you don’t promote him. Just as you said, if he becomes a manager he’s likely to drive his staff to exhaustion with his constant demands for perfection.

Incidentally, how did you yourself become a boss? Is it not because you’re more capable than your subordinates? It’s thus only natural that bosses are able to detect the mistakes of people who work for them. Mistakes happen, and if you can’t determine whether they’re fatal ones and understand when to overlook the small stuff, you’re definitely not fit to be a boss. If you demand perfection, you’ll find it impossible to supervise the 10 or 20 people working for you. You have to be broad-minded and learn to accept work as long it scores a passing grade. There are countless people who don’t understand even this basic principle.

At one-on-one meetings and the like, I recommend that you gradually advise him that if he wants to become a manager, he has to give up his perfectionism. If he doesn’t change his ways, you should simply tell your successor when you move to another department that you counseled him in this way, and that he shouldn’t be promoted to management.

Haruaki Deguchi,

university president

(from July 10, 2019, issue)Speech

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