Are you a leader who strives for perfection in everything you do?
Do you feel like this mindset is necessary to achieve success in your business or organization?
Did you know that you may be unintentionally hindering your ability to create an authentic and supportive culture for your employees because of it?
In this blog post, I will be discussing how perfectionism can kill authenticity in leadership and provide tips on how to overcome this mindset.
As a coach who has worked with top leaders, I have seen firsthand how perfectionism can be detrimental to building a positive workplace culture. I’ll show you how you can shift your mindset and become a more effective and authentic leader.
The Importance of Authenticity in Leadership
Authenticity is a buzzword that is thrown around a lot these days, but what does it really mean in the context of leadership? Simply put, authenticity means being true to yourself and demonstrating honesty and transparency in all interactions. When you are authentic, your leadership inspires trust and builds strong connections with your employees.
Before we dive into the strategy, let’s get clear. Why is authenticity so important in leadership?
James, a top leader I recently worked with, shared his experience with me. He admitted that he used to have a “perfectionist” mentality, always striving to be flawless in every aspect of his work. However, he soon realized that his employees couldn’t connect with him on a personal level because he wasn’t being real with them. He was also burning himself out by having these unrealistic expectations of himself. Although he was much kinder and gentler in his approach to his team, they were seeing the standards he set for himself and were trying to emulate those for themselves.
James understood the importance of being a compassionate leader, but he didn’t apply those same rules to himself. I joked about how he’s “special” and how those rules everyone else goes by don’t really apply to him. Ultimately, I urged him to take a second look at the discrepancy in his messaging and see how not only is this message inconsistent, it’s inauthentic.
Once Jame started embracing his imperfections and showing vulnerability, he noticed a shift in the way his team interacted with him. They were more open, honest, and willing to work together towards common goals.
This example shows that authenticity is essential for building trust, fostering open communication, and creating a positive work culture. As a leader, your employees look to you for guidance and direction, and they need to know that you are genuine in your interactions with them.
So, how can you cultivate authenticity as a leader? Let’s explore some coaching tips.
Perfectionism vs. Authenticity in Leadership
Perfectionism is often touted as a desirable trait in leadership. After all, who wouldn’t want their boss to be someone who strives for excellence and expects the same from their team? Turns out, perfectionism can actually be at odds with authenticity in leadership.
We’ve already mentioned that authenticity means being genuine, transparent, and true to yourself. It means admitting mistakes, owning up to shortcomings, and showing vulnerability. When leaders strive for perfection, they may inadvertently create a culture of fear and mistrust. Employees may feel that they can’t be themselves, that they need to hide their mistakes, and that they’ll be punished for any misstep.
In my conversation with James, we discussed how perfectionism can lead to unrealistic expectations and ultimately, burnout. James had created a separate set of rules for himself, and in doing so, he was communicating two distinct cultures: The “do as I say” culture and the “do as I do” culture” without realizing it. We discussed that in order to create an authentic and supportive culture, he needed to let go of his perfectionism and embrace vulnerability.
Let’s boil this down: It’s important to have a culture based on a growth mindset not only for your employees, but also for the company’s leadership team. What we profess, we must address.
The Benefits of Being Less Perfectionistic
Having more self-compassion and expecting less perfection from yourself can have several benefits on your team:
1) Improved productivity: When you stop striving for perfection and instead focus on progress, you’ll be able to complete tasks more efficiently, leading to improved productivity.
2) Increased motivation: Being self-compassionate can help you overcome setbacks and challenges, which can increase your motivation to keep working towards your goals.
3) Reduced stress: Perfectionism can lead to high levels of stress, anxiety, and burnout. When you’re kinder to yourself and allow for mistakes, you’ll experience less stress and be better equipped to handle challenges.
4) Better team dynamics: When you model self-compassion and encourage your team to do the same, it can lead to a more supportive and positive team culture, where people feel safe to take risks and learn from mistakes.
5) Increased creativity: Perfectionism can stifle creativity and innovation, as it can lead to a fear of taking risks or trying new things. When you let go of perfectionism and allow for mistakes, you’ll be more open to creative ideas and solutions.
During my conversation with James, he shared how his own experience with perfectionism had led to disengagement and mistrust among his team. By adopting a more authentic leadership style, he was able to rebuild relationships with his employees and create a more positive work environment. As he put it, “It’s not about being perfect, it’s about being human and making connections with your team.”
Bottom line: Let go of perfectionism and with it, you’ll minimize disengagement, burnout, and high turnover rates.
How to Be Less Perfectionistic
You’ve been a perfectionist your whole life. How do you suddenly change not only your work style, but your leadership style?
It starts with prioritizing open communication, encouraging experimentation, and embracing flexibility. Here are some strategies to help you achieve this:
1) Foster open communication and vulnerability: As a leader, it’s important to create a culture of open communication, where employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas. This can be achieved by being vulnerable yourself, and admitting when you don’t have all the answers. Show your employees that it’s safe to take risks and make mistakes.
2) Encourage experimentation and learning from mistakes: Perfectionism often leads to a fear of failure, which can stifle creativity and innovation. Allow your employees to experiment with new ideas. And when mistakes inevitably happen, make sure to view them as opportunities for growth and learning.
3) Prioritize employee well-being and work-life balance: Perfectionism often leads to overworking and burnout, which can have negative effects on employee well-being and productivity. As a leader, make sure to prioritize your employees’ well-being and work-life balance. This can be achieved by offering flexible schedules, encouraging time off, and promoting a healthy work culture.
4) Embrace flexibility and adaptability in the face of change: In today’s fast-paced business environment, change is inevitable. Rather than resisting change, embrace it, and model flexibility and adaptability for your employees.
5) Lead by example and model authenticity for others: To be an authentic leader yourself, be true to your values and prioritize authenticity over perfectionism. This helps create a culture where employees feel valued, empowered, and motivated to do their best work.
Adopting a more authentic leadership style can have a significant positive impact on both employees and the organization as a whole. By letting go of perfectionism and embracing authenticity, leaders can build trust and foster a more supportive and productive workplace culture.
On the one hand, perfectionism can lead to mistrust, disengagement, and burnout among employees. On the other hand, valuing employee well-being, fostering open communication, and encouraging experimentation and adaptability can create a supportive and productive workplace culture.
It’s time for leaders to let go of perfectionism and embrace authenticity. As I challenged James to be less “special,” the same rules and values that apply to employees should also apply to leaders. This includes practicing self-compassion and modeling the behavior they want to see in their employees.
So, I challenge all leaders to take a step back and reevaluate their approach to leadership. Ask yourself, are you leading with authenticity and prioritizing the well-being of your employees and yourself? If not, it’s never too late to make a change. Adopt a more authentic leadership style, and you can create a workplace culture that values both productivity and employee satisfaction.
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Dr. Sharon Grossman, AKA the Burnout Doc, is a clinically trained psychologist and subject matter expert in burnout and mental health. Associations and Fortune 500 companies hire her to be their closing keynote speaker, to help their members and executives crack the code on burnout, and create custom-tailored solutions for recovery.
Over the past 20 years, Dr. Sharon has been helping high achievers who are struggling with anxiety, overwhelm, and burnout go from exhausted to extraordinary by better understanding how their brain works and how they can design and run their programming on purpose to live the kind of life they want to live. She is the author of several books on burnout and mindset and host of the Decode Your Burnout podcast. Through her speaking, training, and coaching, she helps organizations keep their top talent.