Perfectionism is Not a Strength

Are you a leader who is a perfectionist? 

If so, treat yourself to some self-compassion to remedy the situation.  Sometimes linked to fear or fear of failure, perfectionism can rear its ugly head in the following ways:

  • Spending an inordinate amount of time writing emails to be sure they are perfect before you send them.
  • Doing endless research before turning in a report, even if the report is turned in late (or very close to the deadline).
  • Inability to make a decision because you don’t have all the “facts.”
  • Spending too much time analyzing a situation when trying to problem-solve.
  • Being overly critical of yourself or others.
  • A fear of falling short of your expectations.
  • Controlling behavior
  • Procrastination
  • A belief that your value is linked to what you do for others.

As a leader, perfectionism not only impacts you but it also impacts your team.  Your direct reports may find it harder to trust you because they fear your overly critical nature.  Perfectionist leaders are often the bottleneck which slows agility and stifles creativity, innovation, and collaboration.  They are perceived as inflexible and inefficient. 

In what way does perfectionism show up for you?

Kristin Neff, founder of the Mindful Center for Self-Compassion, explains that endless judging and criticizing of yourself leads to thoughts of imperfection.  But this behavior can be shifted with self-compassion which, in turn, leads to more compassion for others.  One of the best ways that you as a leader can influence your team is with compassion.  So, if you are a perfectionist, it will benefit you to find ways to be more self-compassionate.

In coaching, I work with my clients to identify specific ways that they are being hindered by their perfectionism.  We target real-time situations and then determine an alternate way for them to handle that situation.  In a sense, I help them build new habits and then we scale those behaviors and apply them to the team.  In this way, the leader is more influential, and the team becomes a more effective unit.       

One resource that has helped many of my clients is Kristin Neff’s The Mindfulness Self-Compassion Workbook.  It’s a small but mighty guide with powerful exercises that can help leaders shift the habit of perfectionism to one of self-compassion.  I’ve personally seen leaders increase their team’s performance, efficiency, and build psychological safety simply by committing to their own work on self-compassion.  If you think perfectionism is a strength, think again! 

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