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Brain circuits

Do you have unrelenting standards?

Published 5 October 2021 in Brain circuits • 2 min read

Many executives place far too much stress on themselves and their teams as a result of what psychologists call “unrelenting standards” – the constant pressure to achieve impossibly high levels of performance. For these leaders, excellence is not enough, only perfection will do. They find it difficult to find satisfaction in their accomplishments, no matter how great; they don’t express enough appreciation to their teams for what has been accomplished; and they demonstrate little understanding of normal human limitations. As a result, they can discourage and demotivate their people.

Like many dysfunctional patterns of behavior, unrelenting standards are usually the result of early childhood experiences, in this case of gaining acceptance through performance. Over time, this becomes internalized as a “voice” reminiscent of a demanding parent driving you relentlessly.

To determine if you have unrelenting standards, ask yourself where you stand on the following statements and answer on a scale of one to six with the numbers corresponding to these answers:

  1. Completely untrue of me
  2. Mostly untrue of me
  3. Somewhat untrue of me
  4. Somewhat true of me
  5. Mostly true of me
  6. Completely true of me

The statements

  1. I need to be the best at almost everything I do.
  2. I can’t settle for “good enough”.
  3. I have a very strong need to meet my responsibilities.
  4. I feel constant pressure to achieve.
  5. I hate not winning.

Add up your numbers. If your total is greater than 20 or you answered two or more questions with 5s and 6s you probably have unrelenting standards.

If you have revealed this type of tendency, it is important to identify what triggers this behavior in you and examine how frequently it occurs. The next step is to learn how to manage it in ways that will help you become a better leader.

 

Authors

Michael Watkins - IMD Professor

Michael Watkins

Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change at IMD

Michael Watkins is the best-selling author of The First 90 Days, Master Your Next Move, Predictable Surprises, and 11 other books on leadership and negotiation. A Thinkers 50-ranked management influencer and recognized expert in his field, he contributes regularly to leading business journals and podcasts. His work is featured in HBR Guides and HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership, Teams, Strategic Initiatives and New Managers. He received his PhD from Harvard University in Decision Sciences and taught at Harvard and INSEAD prior to IMD. He is a trusted mentor and coach for C-level leaders of global organizations and directs The First 90 Days and Transition to Business Leadership programs.

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