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How to Work With a Perfectionist Boss

Is your boss always pointing out that your work isn't quite right? Does he or she expect you to work yourself to the bone? Do you go home every night exhausted and at your wit's end?

Sit down, take a deep breath and relax as you learn some strategies that will help you win the trust of your perfectionist boss.

"It's important to seek to understand perfectionist bosses and why they're so focused on perfection," says Janelle Brittain, M.B.A., C.S.P., president of Dynamic Performance Institute in Chicago and author of "Star Team Dynamics: 12 Lessons Learned From Experienced Team Builders." "It's often because they fear they'll lose something if perfection isn't achieved. They may be afraid of losing their prestige, sense of worth or even their jobs."


When receiving an assignment or project from a perfectionist, take a moment to clarify the expectations. If your boss wants things done a certain way, write down the plan step by step. Make sure you keep asking questions until you're clear about your boss's expectations.

Pay attention to details

Be precise. Give your boss neat, orderly, spell-checked work. Nothing stands out more to a perfectionist than typos, sloppiness and inaccurate information. Keep track of deadlines and get your work done on time.

Be prepared

Never come unprepared to a meeting. If you have a project to report on, come to the meeting with a complete progress report. If the meeting is about a new topic, do your pre-meeting research about the subject.

No surprises

Perfectionists don't like surprises. Keep your boss informed as to how a project is going as the work progresses.

"If you see the possibility of a problem on the horizon, give your boss a heads up. Perhaps offer an idea for solving or preventing it," says Ms. Brittain.

Any possible solutions should be well thought out, logical and workable.

Have a can-do attitude

"Even though it may be tough, keep a positive attitude when the perfectionist is demanding," says Ms. Brittain. "If you're feeling overwhelmed, make a logical case for getting assistance with your work. This way, you're saying you can do it if you get help."

Develop trust

"Never cover up a mistake to avoid criticism, even though it may be tempting, as you'll immediately lose the trust of your perfectionist boss," warns Ms. Brittain.

Show you care

"Because perfectionists often are harder to like, they don't receive many messages that others care about them and their welfare," says Ms. Brittain. "If you see your boss is a nervous wreck trying to push everyone to perfection, say something like, 'I'm worried about you. You look exhausted. Why don't you take a few moments of peace and quiet in your office, and I'll cover for you.'"

A small gesture of caring often will help your boss be more understanding of your struggle.

Be proactive

"Instead of reacting negatively to the perfectionist boss's demands, seek to understand them and create a strategy for working with them," Ms. Brittain says. "This way, when you go home at night, you can let go of your work worries because you know you've got a plan."