10 Oct

How Perfectionism Sabotages Leadership: Three Solutions to Move Your Mindset

There I was. Historic church in Marietta, Georgia. Sun streaming through the 140-year-old windows. About to sing a solo in front of two hundred people. I loved the song and I’d practiced it dozens of times. I sang beautifully. I really did.


But it wasn’t perfect. I’d missed a note. And the crowd knew it–because my face crumbled when I did it!


I was distraught. I could think of nothing but my mistake. And as the service ended, I couldn’t even celebrate my success nor receive the compliments from my own family and community.


The Monster of Required Perfection (MORP)

Most of my life, I was haunted by what I call the MORP. The Monster of Required Perfection. It’s a terrible beast to live with. This monster stalls creativity, hinders success, minimizes courage and prevents ambition from getting off the ground. But I eventually resolved that I was not going to give up success. Instead, I was going to release perfectionism.

The Miserable Cycle of Perfectionism

There is nothing wrong with having lofty goals and raising your bar! It’s the way I work and how my clients approach their careers. But here’s the difference. Ambition puts energy into your hard work. Perfection on the other hand, puts energy behind “fear of less than” or “desire to be greater than.” And when you’re living with MORP, perfection is always pushing you to the next big goal, ensuring milestones are forgotten as soon as they’re completed, and leaving lessons and happiness in the dust.


You are never enough, it says. Your bar is always higher. Just out of reach.  

Thus, begins a never-ending cycle of striving to be perfect. And it’s miserable. But there’s a way out.

Here are three techniques to get out of the perfectionist trap and create a credible leadership style.

Hint: Self-awareness is the key.


  1. Stop Judging. Seriously.

    Notice the judgments you make every day. About your boss, your peer or your employee. Now notice how these perfectionism-fueled notions influence your decisions, often slamming the door on empowerment and potential for a career path, a relationship or a business solution. Finally, notice how they fuel a consistent “not-good-enough” syndrome for yourself.

    Keep a judgment journal. Nothing complicated. Jot down your judgments for one day. See how fast it fills up. Notice your perfectionism. Notice the relationship between judging others, judging yourself and the consequences of each. And it is one of the quickest ways to demean your self-esteem.


  1. Face Fear. Then Overcome It. Acknowledge Fear. Then Tell it to Get Lost.

    Progress is highly dependent on risk. Whether it’s speaking up, reaching out or taking a fresh approach, risks are required to succeed. “But it’s uncomfortable,” you whine. “I might make a mistake,” you say. “What if they don’t understand my idea?” This is the fear of imperfection looming over you. And just like that, you avoid risk, and stay cozy, right where you are. Status quo. And we know the status quo is sluggish. It hinders innovation. It cannot possibly keep up with the global changes swirling around you.

    Next time you’re faced with a risk–big or small–notice the fear of imperfection. Say hello to this fear. Acknowledge its presence. And then overpower that fear with your own voice.


  1. Get Curious. Egos Not Allowed.

    We don’t know what we don’t know. And admitting our imperfection means leaving our ego at the door. But it also allows space for other’s talents and contributions. You’re likely surrounded by a biodynamic garden of thought, experience, background and talent. But we’re often afraid to delegate. We refuse to ask for help.

    Challenge: Today, (yes, today) when you’re not sure how about an approach, a person or a decision, reach out to a colleague, a peer or an employee. It can be one question or a full-on discussion. But see how it feels to let down that guard and receive.


Is perfection preventing you from taking risks? Is it keeping you a little too “comfortable.” Is it supporting a leadership style that limits or empowers?

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