By: Dr. Kent Ingle
At one time or another, you’ve wanted something to be perfect. Whether it was an event you were organizing, an important conversation or a work project, you hoped things would go Flawlessly. Desiring excellence is healthy, but there is an unhealthy extreme: perfectionism.
Perfectionist leaders are often overly afraid of making mistakes or of letting their teams down. They can find it hard to move past their shortcomings and see the positives in situations where they feel they could have done better. These types of leaders may also have a hard time hearing criticism without being discouraged, and may have unrealistic expectations for their teams and for themselves.
Here are five ways to combat perfectionism in your leadership.
1. Have realistic expectations. In wanting to do things well, you can sometimes set lofty goals for yourself and your team. You may create objectives that are not attainable or feel like you could have done better. If you don’t meet your predetermined ideas of what success should look like, you can feel like you’re failing or falling short.
Success doesn’t mean doing everything perfectly or that it has to happen exactly as you imagined. Set goals that you and your team can actually achieve. Push for excellence in pursuing those goals, but don’t allow yourself to feel suffocated if everything doesn’t go according to plan.
2. Don’t fear failure. As a leader, you have people looking to you for support, direction and guidance. It’s easy to feel that you aren’t doing enough or letting people down. You can quickly become consumed with the idea that you aren’t allowed to make mistakes, because if you do, you’re failing your team or setting a poor example for them to follow.
Failure is inevitable. Instead of worrying about failing or what could happen if you do, practice looking for ways to improve your leadership. Turn times you make mistakes into opportunities to have honest conversations with your team.
By having those types of conversations, you will create space for your team to know they too can make mistakes. It will also help you earn their trust and respect.
3. Learn from your mistakes. When you make mistakes, it can be easy to fixate on what went wrong. You may find yourself repeatedly going over what happened. Instead of fixating on the past or resenting your mistakes, look for ways you can learn from them. Consider past times where things didn’t go well and see how those instances helped you grow as a leader. By reframing how you view failure as an opportunity for growth, you can find peace for the future and extend more grace to yourself and others.
4. Be open to feedback. If you struggle with perfectionism, it can be hard to take criticism from others. You may find yourself being overly sensitive or defensive and have a hard time seeing any feedback in a positive light, even if it’s meant as a compliment.
Invite your team members and fellow leaders to provide feedback and listen with an open mind. View critiques as an opportunity to improve yourself — and not as a mark of failure. Be sure to acknowledge the positives of what they’re saying and take compliments to heart. When you are open to listening to others, you’ll find it easier to see where you can practically improve, and you may find that you’re doing better than you might think.
5. Celebrate successes. In worrying about past mistakes or what might go wrong, it can be easy to forget the positives. You may have a hard time acknowledging when you or your team did well. Remember to celebrate everyone’s accomplishments. Even if something didn’t go as well as you had hoped, acknowledge the hard work that went into it and recognize what went well. By focusing on the successes, you’ll find it easier to remember the past in a more positive light, while helping your team feel appreciated and encouraged.
Reframing your perfectionist thoughts takes time. Practice acknowledging your mistakes as they come and taking ownership for them, but then give yourself grace. Look for the ways you can learn from your failures, while at the same time, celebrating what went well and how you and your team succeeded.