Are You a Perfectionistic Leader? More Success Tips

Leaders have to write a lot of speeches, reports, grants, and white papers. If you’re a perfectionistic leader, you may benefit from even more success tips than those provided in my last post. For example, maybe your mind goes blank and your fingers get frozen as you stare at the computer. Perhaps you’re afraid that what you’re going to write won’t be up to your own incredibly high standards. Writer’s block is one of the many obstacles for perfectionistic leaders.


As you constantly strive for perfection, you may find that your “get up and go” has got up and went. Even the most hard-working, ambitious leader can become frustrated after years of trying the impossible. The result, oddly enough, can be “paralysis of analysis”. Negative thoughts and beliefs that stop perfectionists in their tracks include:

  • “What’s the use?”
  • “If I never complete this project, I don’t have to risk negative feedback or criticism.”
  • “If I never ask for a promotion, I don’t have to risk feeling bad when I don’t get it.”
  • “If I never apply for that job, I don’t have to risk the chance they’ll choose someone else.”
  • “If I never write that report, I don’t have to risk being ridiculed”, or
  • “Why should I even try?”


The two words you see over and over here are never and risk. Constantly pushing yourself to excel, and always focusing on flawless performance, creates the fears of risk and of disapproval from others. These negative, dis-empowering, self-defeating thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, and conclusions make the perfectionist want to do little or nothing. When you’re unsure or afraid of where you’re going, the safest bet is to go nowhere. When you don’t want to risk being wrong, the surest thing to do is nothing. Perfectionists become mentally and emotionally paralyzed, incapable of taking action.

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#1 Success Tip: Learn to Make Mistakes

Perfectionistic leaders have a difficult time taking risks. Yet a critical part of leadership is taking risks and learning from mistakes. The fear of failure and the fear of being imperfect are so strong, that it can become debilitating to these leaders. That’s why you may need to ease up on yourself by trying something new – – something you’ve never done before, something you might not be very good at. Is there a chance you won’t succeed? Of course. But if you can’t do it perfectly, well that’s fine. Why is it important to do something less than perfectly? Here are some of the benefits:

  • You gain a new perspective. Falling and picking yourself up to find that the world hasn’t ended can be liberating
  • It gives you the freedom and motivation to venture out into uncharted territories
  • It gives you a better understanding of others; you will begin to appreciate people who know things you don’t know and can do things you can’t do.
  • It gives you permission to do less than your best at something.
  • It teaches you that there are degrees of accomplishment – – that it’s not all or nothing. You don’t have to be the best to learn something and have fun. It teaches you that not succeeding can be normal, necessary, and maybe even desirable.


#2 Success Tip: Be Less Critical

How does perfectionism affect your relationships? Some perfectionists assume that everyone around them expects them to be perfect. And, they worry about living up to those expectations. Another problem is being too critical of others. Many perfectionists impose their extremely high demands and standards on people in their lives. They believe that others in their life must be perfect too. They criticize anyone who doesn’t live up to their ideals. They put down those who make mistakes. The trouble with criticism is that it alienates others. Nobody likes being on the receiving end of it.

Let’s say you have a legitimate complaint. You may want to express your feelings, but you’re not sure how to do it. Perfectionistic leaders sometimes use public humiliation. However, this tactic does not work. It doesn’t make anyone feel good—not you, the other person, or bystanders. If this is you, you may be ready to make a change. So what can you do? First of all, avoid criticizing people for who they are. In other words don’t attack their personality or judge them by insulting them or calling them names. Always avoid using the words always and never.

  • Clarify the issue before bringing it up with the other person. Figure out what is really bothering you. Then separate it from any irrelevant issues, like prior complaints.
  • Tell the other person how you see the situation and how you feel about it – – without excusing or criticizing. Use I messages. For example, “I feel angry because…” Avoid vague generalizations like, “You’re always doing such and such…” or “You never do such and such…”
  • Come up with a solution and give the other person the opportunity to do the same, while keeping an open mind.

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For example, instead of saying, “You are such a big mouth! I can never trust you. You really threw me under the bus when you told Jim what I told you.” Say, “Jim told me something I was sure I told you in confidence. I feel really angry and embarrassed now. Maybe you didn’t realize it was supposed to be confidential. How can I let you know the next time?”

Instead of saying, “You stole my idea for that marketing project. I guess you’re not smart enough to come up with ideas of your own, since you’re always taking mine.” Say, “I was surprised when you told Tim what you plan to do for our project. It sounded a lot like the idea I shared with you last week. If you needed help coming up with an idea, you could’ve asked me. Then I’d feel comfortable doing the same with you.”

Instead of saying, “You’re totally irresponsible! You promised you would be at the meeting! Then you  didn’t even show up. You made me present half of the agenda items on my own.” Try saying, “I thought we agreed to be at the meeting at 7:30. I felt disorganized and uninformed presenting your half of the agenda. I wasn’t prepared to discuss those items. So it made me look like a fool. If something comes up the next time we make plans, please call me and let me know.”


Another important part of being less critical is forgiveness. In fact, that alone may be all that’s necessary in some situations. Sometimes you can tell an employee who makes a mistake or lets you down, “That’s okay, no worries. I was angry (or disappointed) about it, but I’m okay now and we can put it behind us.”


#3 Success Tip: Keep Commitments Reasonable

Another problem perfectionists have is the tendency to over-commit themselves and be super responsible. They spend time on work, training, education, volunteerism– – everything but their relationships. Some become trapped between the desire for success and the fear of failure. As a result, they may overbook and stretch themselves to their limits, trying to do everything at once and do it all well. Over-commitment may be a way of avoiding closeness, and it may signal the need to re-evaluate your priorities. Sure, it’s important to do a good job. But, it’s also important to get involved in outside activities and follow through on your promises and obligations. It’s also important to be there for your friends and family when they need you – – especially if you expect the same from them.


It is great to be able to do many things well. But, overdoing it to the point of being over-stressed and worn out is taking it too far. Taking on more than you can handle can be very destructive. You may find yourself unable to do your best work or even perform competently. In trying to do everything, you may end up doing nothing well. There are times when you may need to look out for, and stand up for yourself. That’s not being selfish. It’s taking care of yourself and investing in self-care. Looking at your own needs means taking time to rest and recuperate after finishing one project and before starting the next. It means slowing down, calming down, and taking inventory of where you are and where you want to go.


#4 Success tip: Get up and get out

Too many all-nighters and too much stress can have a cumulative effect on your body. Laughter can help relieve stress. But, you may need to do more. You might also need to exercise. Instead of just sitting around worrying about always being successful and only achieving high quality work, try getting up and getting out. Expand your network to include active people. Call them up and ask them to go hiking, swimming, rafting, rock-climbing, bicycling, or running – – anything physical that sounds like fun to you. You’ll go to work or come home with energy to spare, and your work will still be there where you left it.


Whatever you choose to do, do it for enjoyment. Golfing isn’t about that perfect swing or the best score. Leave your competitive self at home. If you turn your new pursuits into fierce competitions, you’ll defeat the purpose. You don’t have to be the best golfer, rock climber, or swimmer. You don’t always have to be the know-it-all leader who read eight books on the topic. Just relax, be yourself, and have fun.


#5 Success tip: Turn problems into learning opportunities

Any problem can become more manageable if you take the time to learn about it. If you are truly a perfectionist, you know how to do research. Why not use that to your advantage? Study how you can overcome perfectionism so that it becomes a strength, not a weakness.

Are you an overachiever bordering on workaholism? Then research workaholism. What are its causes and effects? Come up with a plan to overcome it. Are you a procrastinator? Discover how others have conquered it.

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For help overcoming perfectionism, check out our powerfully transforming audio-recording available as a CD or digital download:

Overcome Perfectionism

Barbara Jordan, 
Author, Trainer/Facilitator, Executive Coach

LPI (Leadership Practices Inventory) Certified Coach

DISC Certified Behavior Analyst

AdvantEdge Success Coaching & Training

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