The Problem with Perfection (Episode 14 of “How Do I Lead Now?”)

This episode of “How Do I Lead Now?” features Cylient CEO Dianna Anderson talking through the problem with perfection, and how it impacts the decisions you make.


Perfection Leads to Avoiding Risks

Many people learned in grade school to strive to be perfect—to get 100% on the test or the gold star for the day—and that worked in grade school. However, many of us still have the underlying belief that if we’re perfect, we’re safe. That is actually not a safe belief or strategy. For individuals, if you’re striving to be perfect, you’re probably not taking risks. When people stay in their comfort zone of doing only what they know how to be perfect at, they stop learning new things, and their world becomes smaller and smaller. That’s not what we need in a world that’s expanding. As leaders, we need to coach people to help them understand that striving for perfection is not safe anymore—we need to learn how to take calculated risks and learn how to learn.

As leaders, it can be helpful to introduce an iterative learning process, where people try something new, notice what went well and what didn’t, and then try again. In that way, we’re constantly growing and expanding our skills.

What to Do When Your Boss Expects Perfection

After understanding this, many people ask: “My boss expects me to be perfect. What do I do?” This is a great opportunity to “coach up” and help your boss understand that striving to be perfect is probably not the best strategy for either of you.

Coaching up can be intimidating, and it can look like a number of different things. Think of coaching up as planting seeds, rather than having a full-blown coaching conversation. This can look like: sharing an idea, sharing an article that illuminates something, asking a question or showing how iterative learning has helped your team. Hopefully eventually—maybe not in the first conversation, but eventually—they will come around to change their perception of perfection.

Be sure to have these conversations with the intention to be of service to your boss. If you plant the seeds of this new possibility, the chances are much higher of your boss opening up their thinking to see that perfection is not the ultimate goal.

Reflection Questions

Watch the video to understand the problem with perfection. Then, reflect on the following:

  • Consider where you strive for perfection, or whether setting the expectation of perfection is part of your leadership style.
  • Where could you begin to take some risks and build some skills to get more comfortable learning how to learn?

Comment below with your reflections, insights, observations or questions, and Dianna will respond to them.

Other Episodes of “How Do I Lead Now?”

Watch other episodes with the links below.

  • Episode 1: The difference between traditional leadership approaches and coaching-based leadership
  • Episode 2: What kind of leader do I need to be now?
  • Episode 3: How to meet people where they are
  • Episode 4: How to coach someone through fear
  • Episode 5: How to make friends with fear
  • Episode 6: Why the questions we ask and answer for ourselves really matter
  • Episode 7: Why intentions work better than goals now
  • Episode 8: Understanding and appreciating worldviews
  • Episode 9: What to say when you don’t know what to say
  • Episode 10: Using traditional and coaching-based leadership together
  • Episode 11: How to coach people to build confidence
  • Episode 12: Discerning patterns as a leadership skill
  • Episode 13: How to create change in complex situations
  • Episode 14: The problem with perfection

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