Leaders: Stop Trying To Be Perfect

Monday, July 30, 2012

I have been gathering 360-assessment feedback on a new client I am coaching and am thrilled with the candid input her peers and subordinates have been providing me.  During the feedback gathering process, I have uncovered a consistent theme around the topic of perfectionism.  I wanted to share this info in a blog post because I find this theme amongst many of the leaders I coach who are new to higher level positions.

This particular individual is new to a Vice President role in a $1B corporation.  She has been promoted in the past few months and, as with many I’ve coached in similar situations, she seems to be striving to be perfect.  She is taking on more and more, refusing to say no, and delivering a lot of “company lines” which are being received by her peers and subordinates with some uncertainty.  Why? Because they cannot sense who she is, what she believes and what she is all about.  Instead, they sense a desire to be perfect and live up to some “ideal corporate image” instead of being a real person, a leader who has flaws and doesn’t know it all.  They are uneasy about a person who seems to be striving to be perfect because most people know, that is a recipe for failure – no one is perfect nor can they be.

Some of the specific feedback I received was, “I wish she’d just let us know what she’s struggling with so we can help her”, and, “I want to know what she thinks is best to do and what her desires are, separate from those set by the corporation”.      I love getting this type of feedback and giving it to the leaders I coach because it is always eye-opening for them.  They realize that they do not have to be perfect and that they can be real people and be who they truly are, even (and especially) in the workplace.  They discover that is what their subordinates (and their peers, and yes, even their bosses) want.  They want the real person; that is what makes them true leaders; not trying to be perfect but simply being who they truly are.   So, the message is simple: stop trying to be perfect but instead just be you!    It’s just like Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself – everyone else is already taken.”


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