Two weeks ago, one of my top leadership coaching tips – Leave Perfectionism at the Door – earned me a place as one of 22 Leaders to Learn From in 2022 by Bunch; the developers of a global App powered by artificial intelligence to inspire a whole new generation of future leaders.
It was an honour but also a total surprise to be contacted by Darja Gutnick, CEO and co-founder of Bunch to inform me my work had been picked up online and liked by their followers.
It placed me among world leaders including Ellen Wong, VP of Engineering of Calm, the #1 App for Meditation and Sleep; Nir Eyal, Best Selling Author of Hooked and Shachar Scott, VP of Global Marketing; Bumble on the list.
I was delighted about this recognition and knowing my work had been picked up and passed on by the Bunch App. It has a reach of 46k users on the web and social media in the form of short, consumable, relevant, insights, concepts and strategies to make professional growth accessible to everyone via two-minute daily tips.
Leaving Perfectionism at the Door
My advice on ‘leaving perfectionism at the door’ has now become one of the most saved pieces of content in the confidence category with almost 500 saved tips rated by 96% of users that read or listened to it.
I love this quote from Anne Lamott.
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.”
For me this means striving for perfectionism is a sure-fire way to feel worthless and puts the barriers up to feedback. Because you are so scared of making a mistake you will never take risks and get out of your comfort zone.
Condemning yourself in your working life to this will result in less success and a pretty unhappy life. It’s one of the main causes of Imposter Syndrome. Learn to let it go by asking yourself, what have I learned from the experience. How can I be better next time? That’s where true growth lies.
Women especially can feel pressured to overperform, as the research tells us they’re judged more harshly and under more scrutiny at work. That can lead to perfectionist tendencies. Working with women I regularly see that they put most of their attention on doing a great job and very little on making what they do visible.
The latter point about the difference between how men and women are expected to perform in the workplace was something of interest to BBC Radio Ulster and picked up by the Lynette Fay Show.
Here is what the presenter asked:
Is perfectionism a good thing or is it something that holds us back and exactly what do you mean when you talk about this issue?
In my opinion, it’s about striving for something that doesn’t exist so achieving something to a perfect level is an impossible ask whereas going for excellence is something that we can perhaps manage.
Would you fix perfectionism with excellence or replace it with excellence?
Yes, and doing your best. If you think about what in life is actually perfect and why would we be going for that when it causes so much stress to make it happen?
There is a notion if someone refers to you as being a perfectionist, that it is a compliment or it has become so in recent years?
Yes. Well, it has and it hasn’t, I think. It’s a bit of a double edge sword. People like to say I’m a perfectionist because it means I produce really high-quality work. Actually, perfectionism can mean you overwork something, or you delay things when good enough is good enough.
If you are not a perfectionist would that mean you are letting your standards slide?
No, it just means that you maybe a bit more realistic. It’s not about letting standards slide but we can put ourselves under a lot of pressure to achieve perfection and what does it actually mean anyway? Do you need that report at work to be perfect or do you need it to be done and enough?
Now there are certain things that need to be done accurately and with excellence but with perfectionism does every dot need to be in the right place? It’s a bit too much to ask.
In your experience, is it something that affects women more than men?
Well, yes. It does because I think, and research shows, we are trained into perfectionism from a young age. I run a Master Mind programme for Senior Leaders and we were talking about this the other day. If you think about little girls and little boys, there’s loads of expressions that girls will be girls and boys will be boys.
That boys will go out and get dirty and won’t do their homework whereas girls are held to a much higher standard from the get go, to keep their clothes clean, to get stuff done, to get the top grades so I think we are pushed and trained into this from a very early age and then it’s always living up to this level of pressure that’s put on us and that transfers into the workplace.
Research shows men are pushed very differently to women at work. I mean you can see it in the way the media talk about men. Women are much more likely to be judged on their appearance, how they sound, how they come across, what they do.
It’s judge, judge, judge!
Then there’s this unrealistic expectation we have to perform to a higher level, deliver better, have a better house and all the rest of it. That causes a lot of stress.
Does that breed not making mistakes, women being very uptight in certain circumstances, in work and socially as well? How does it affect people around the perfectionist?
Well, I’m a bit of a reformed perfectionist so I can speak from great experience here. It puts a lot of pressure on everyone else so it can have two effects.
The first is people feel they have to be perfect to be able to deliver anything to you or the other is they are going to think you are going to fix it anyway or it’s not going to be good enough so I’ll just do a half-baked attempt and let her sort it out. Either way you are ending up with people not being at their best.
It feeds into everything very negatively, when the whole idea of it is to be the actual opposite? Does perfectionism feed into Imposter Syndrome? Are they related or are they two different things?
100% they are because if you are striving for an unrealistic level of performance and your expectations are really high, you are never really going to deliver that so you are always going to be disappointed in yourself and think you aren’t good enough so absolutely imposter syndrome will come up so you really have to catch that thinking and realise it’s an unrealistic expectation.
It’s not even necessary so ask yourself what would be good enough instead and gracefully adapt to there is no such thing as perfect and the second thing is people don’t like people who are perfect anyway so you would be better off having a few rough edges.
How can you step back from being perfect?
Catch it and notice it and the stress that you feel trying to achieve that or holding yourself back. Listen to how you talk to yourself so if you thought about speaking that way to yourself or a child or yourself as a child, you wouldn’t ever do it. You would catch yourself on and say there’s no way, I’d do that so it’s hearing it, catching it and saying no and then giving yourself some encouragement instead.
Ask yourself what would be possible, what would be good enough and what have I got to bring to this even if it’s not perfect?
I love helping women see how they can still perform brilliantly without perfectionism or the pressure it brings and get seen and recognised for what they do.