Perfectionism might seem like a benign or even a positive trait to bring to work, but it does more harm than good. It holds us back from our best work, hinders creativity, and when it spreads to our teams, it kills all innovation and productivity.
If it feels like the world will crumble if you don’t do A++ work every single day or if you’re hyper-focused on getting every tiny little thing right, remember that perfectionism is only a tool of fear.
How do we move past perfectionism, and lead people who struggle with it?
In the first episode of Let’s Fix Leadership, we’re digging into the neuroscience behind perfectionism and how to eliminate it.
Perfectionism is a tool of fear. - Jen Thornton
Three Things You’ll Learn In This Episode
The pursuit of perfectionism is unproductive
Can perfectionism ever coexist with innovation and progress?
One question to combat perfectionism
Perfectionism is rooted in the fear of the worst-case scenario. How do we challenge it?
The dangers of perfectionist leadership
How can perfectionism hurt an otherwise great team?
0:00:00.1 S1: This podcast goes out to all my fellow perfectionist...
0:00:08.8 S2: The landscape of business is changing radically. Yeah, leadership is being taught the same, hallway has always been taught, when the world is changing, it's time to bring our leadership styles along for the ride, thanks to cutting edge neuroscience, we now have access to new tools and new language that inspires action, collaboration and innovation in the modern workplace. I started this podcast to bring you the best of these cutting a tools exercises as practices and modern leadership strategies every single week, whether you're a company leader, appropriate, visionary or an entrepreneur, this show gives you a new insight and center science and language of leadership as well as practical steps and tips you can take back to the office so you can lead your team in a powerful way, keeping your people happy and engaged while cheating your biggest goals, because no one has ever changed the world by doing things the way they've always been, that I'm your host, Jen Thor. I'm a talent strategist, an executive coach, speaker in the founder of tremor coaching. Now, let's fix leadership.
0:01:12.7 S1: On today's episode of Let's fix leadership, we're gonna talk about our need to be perfectionist, and most people out there have had this situation at some point in their life, some of us like myself, love to think of how many times how often can I show up perfectly some of us don't worry about it too much. And some of us are somewhere in between. So early in my career, I had thought everything had to be perfect, and there's a lot of reasons why every one of us have our own reasons on why we feel like perfectionism is the only way to be that if we don't put our A plus plus work out there every single day, then we are bad people, or bad at our jobs, or bad leaders, or bad this or that. There's a 1000 different reasons why we create that narrative in our head, but at the end of the day, the reason why we do that is that a fear... Perfectionism is a tool of fear, the fear of failure, fear of being judged, it's a fear of people not thinking that we're good enough, all of those things, but when I really recognize that my own need to be perfect and everything I put out there and that everything had to be just right, and I realized it was really coming from a place of fear, and I was holding my career back immensely, I remember this period in my career, so clearly it's one of those things where you can kind of remember the room you were in the people that were there.
0:02:45.7 S1: All those kind of details. The color of the wall, and you're like, Wow, I'm fear. This perfectionism is too fear, and I can either live in fear or I can get over myself and do bigger things and do bigger things with my career, and it was a turning point in my career. And if you're holding on to perfectionism and your work and your home life and anything you do in your friendships, I wanna offer you the chance to recognize it, it's just a place of fear, and you don't have to be in fear because our good work... Our ability to think big, our ability to do big things actually comes from when we decrease our own fear, and there are neurological reasons, actual science reasons to that, so the more we set in fear, the more a permanent brain takes over because it wants to protect us, our primitive brain does not want us to get hurt, it doesn't want us to feel bad about ourselves, it doesn't want us to be judged, it just... It doesn't like it. Like at the end of the day, none of us like to be in fear in our brain's gonna do whatever it takes to keep us from feeling fear, but when you get comfortable with recognize that that fear is just a chemical reaction, you don't have to respond to it...
0:04:07.9 S1: What I think you'll find for yourself as you start being more creative, and the reason why is as you decrease your own personal fear, you're decreasing the need to exercise that part of your brain that takes over to make sure you stay alive, and you're actually allowing the space for your prehensile cortex to come in and get active, and that's what part of your brain does the good stuff, not that keeping you alive isn't good, and our other parts of our brain do that, but that part of your brain... That's innovative part of your brain who comes up with new ideas, a part of your brain, it's like, Oh wow, we could do that, or we could do this. Part of your brain that's actually out there learning and synthesizing what you've learned and putting it into practice, all of that happens in the prefrontal cortex, and as long as you're in fear, you're holding back its ability to fully function, and that is why you find people who are in frozen and perfectionism, oftentimes, holding on to the past because hey, if it worked last year, then I can say, Well, I did it the way, it's always been done, and it's always worked, not my fault, it didn't work, it's also why you find people holding on to perfectionism, they can't always hear other people's opinions because I can...
0:05:25.5 S1: They're holding on to what works, what they know, because that keeps them from being in trouble and keeps their fear of pay people that are really setting in that fear and setting and perfectionism, they'll come to an argument, not with new ideas to drive things forward. They come to an argument with, Well, this is what's right, and this is what's wrong. And we've all been that person, I don't care who you are, you've all been that person who is setting in perfection, and we have all been that person leading someone hanging out in perfectionism, and we've all worked with that person. And I want you to remember that this is just an action of fear, this fear of getting in trouble, this fear of not doing a great job, and when you see someone on your team fighting with perfectionism instead of getting frustrated because they won't come up with a new idea, instead of getting frustrated because they're so stuck in the way things have always been, you're getting frustrated with the surface, what I want you to do is appreciate the fact that it's coming from fear, and as a leader, you can help them move past that fear, you can help them with your language to start to say things like, Hey, I know it's always been done, but if you did it a different way, even if it didn't work out, what's the worst thing that could happen? And if they're like, Oh well, you know, I could get in trouble.
0:06:49.3 S1: Say, No, you actually wouldn't... I'd actually be really excited that you tried something new, even if it didn't work, I'd actually celebrate your failure or say something like, You know, the way we did it last year, You're right. Did work really well, but you know what, that was a new process from the year before, and if you remember back then, we weren't all excited about the change, but we got on board with it and we did it and it was better. What are the chances of this year being even more better... Is that a word? More better, being even the best, if we go out there and try something new, really getting someone to be in a place where their fear starts to calm down, be in a place where your own fear starts to come down to often this perfectionism of our team, we created, because we're so in fear of our own jobs that if our team isn't perfect and if they don't do everything just right, and the whole world's gonna come crashing down around us, so our fear creates the fear in them, and I did this early in my leadership oh my gosh, if anyone's listening to this, and you worked for me way back when, you probably remember this about me, I really wanted everything to be perfect, and I had this huge fear of one little tiny thing being out of place that the world was gonna come crashing down.
0:08:08.8 S1: And I know because of that, I miss big things, because I was looking at the little things, the big things kind of went and who knows what we could have accomplished now, I will say I had some fantastic teams, Holy Cow, some great teams over the years, and we did great things, but looking back now, when I think about things I've learned and where I am today, I know perfectionism not only held me back, but help my team back and probably drove them crazy like nuts, because I had to have everything just right. And it came from fear came a fear of getting in trouble, I didn't want my team to get in trouble, I certainly didn't wanna get in trouble, and so I let fear create this mindset of perfectionism, and it helped me back and held back my team... And today, in my new world where I'm coaching, leading teams still today, but really spending a lot of my time coaching executives, and I hear them go into perfection mode, I always stop and say, What are you in fear of? And I just, I will say this look comes over their face the first time I asked him that question in the sense of, what do you mean? Fear and I'm like, What happens if this is...
0:09:18.0 S1: If you turn in assignment at 80% instead of 100, what if you only got an A and an A plus, what if you just did, okay, work here, what sort thing is gonna happen? And it's not about doing substandard work, it's about understanding that we're so focused on perfection that it's holding us back, it's holding back our innovation, it's holding back our ability to learn, it's holding back our ability to just see the world in a whole new way, because we are living in this world of right and wrong, and that's what perfectionism is, perfectionist is... That is right, this is wrong. I want to be on the side of right. And that doesn't allow for any room for things to evolve or to be new or to be creative, because we can never forget that perfectionism is truly a tool of fear, and it's trying to keep us safe, it's trying to make sure that we can wake up every day and say, Well, I don't know why it went wrong because I did it perfect, I did it just right. I have no idea why we weren't able to get those cells in, no idea why that marketing campaign flopped because I did it.
0:10:28.2 S1: Right, I was on the side of perfectionism, and that gives me the ability not to be in fear for my job, fear for judgment, fear of getting in trouble or any of those fun things where you're in fear of every
0:10:41.4 S2: Day to... Let's take a quick break from the conversation, does your company need to prepare those upcoming leaders to take the rain to learn more about our leadership academies and our coaching, and to see if your company is a good fit for our transformation program, visit to... For coaching doom.
0:11:03.1 S1: When I say those words to you then as a toll of fear, what are you in fear of right now as you listen to this, are you in fear of someone thinking that you're not good enough for the job you hold, are you in fear that someone's gonna judge you, where does that fear come from? It's so important to stop and pause and ask yourself that question, and Hey, it's okay to pause this podcast, write this second as you answer that for yourself, that question is going to be so important for you to be a person who can step away from fear and to set for side to truly be a big thinker, to innovate, to live in this new place, you have to know what drives that fear, 'cause then you can start to manage it, so really think about that fear... Where does it come from? What's the worst thing that would happen if you let that fear go, what's the worst thing that could happen and... Could you be okay with that? I remember starting my own business years ago, and people were always asking me, Are you scared to start your own business, are you scared to do this and...
0:12:11.5 S1: Yeah, I was scared he... Yeah, but I kept reminding myself is the worst thing that would happen is my business wouldn't succeed and I go get a job, that was the worst thing, and if that was the worst thing, then that was pretty... Okay, that was pretty darn good. And really ask yourself, What are you in fear of? And what's the worst thing that could happen? And you will live, you will survive. There's a good chance. The worst thing that could happen is actually okay, and when you can start to be okay with the worst case scenario, your fear will start to diminish and instantly you will start to see yourself stand taller, smile, bigger, your Isolde brighter. You'll be a better leader, you will be a better friend, a family member, a sister, brother, whatever you are, you will be in a better place when your fear starts to decrease and you start to let go of this fact of, if I am perfect, then my fear is at bay. If I am perfect, then I'm not in trouble. And it's not easy to do, and you have to work at it. And I would love to say In this probably 10-minute podcast that we could make all of our fears go away, probably not gonna happen, but what I do wanna do for you today is I want to help you start to recognize the fact that your perfectionism is only a tool of fear and start to think about where that fear comes from so that you can get comfortable with it, so you can think about worst case scenarios and recognize...
0:13:40.5 S1: The worst case scenario isn't that bad. It's gonna be okay. And it's amazing. I think that once you start to think about that, once you start to watch yourself over the next few days, any time you start to go into perfectionism and you start to say, Hey, wait a minute, am I holding on to this because of fear, or where is this coming from, I think you'll start to learn some things about yourself, and that's how we fix leadership, we have to fix ourselves first, if we are a high level of fear and we're leading people with our fear, then we're creating fear in them too, if we are being a perfectionist, and every single thing we touched, then guess what, our team is gonna be trying to do that too, and it just compounds the fear grows and grows and grows. Therefore, the ability to come up with innovation, new ideas, get the work done, just all of the stuff we actually want, the higher our fear is a less likely... Any of that's gonna happen. We're missing deadlines, it happens all the time, we miss deadlines because we don't think the work is good enough, and again, what's the worst thing that could happen if we turned in something that it was a 95 and not 100, we're still in a...
0:14:52.2 S1: Hey, that's okay. And he's good. So yeah, so that perfectionism in that fear, they go hand in hand, and we have to understand that to be able to move past it, and perfectionism is one of those things, it holds too many of us back in our day-to-day life. Yes, we're talking about leadership today. Yes, we're talking about the workplace, but it's okay to think about this in your home too, it's okay to think about us personally, because fear is not compartmentalized, you don't just have fear at work, you have fear everywhere you go, trying something new, parenting, traveling to a new country, any of those things, I fear comes up. And you have to get really comfortable with it. Or we stay safe. So what I also wanna provide with you is an opportunity to work on this, and if you go to elastic leadership dot com and you go to today's episode, you will be able to download a worksheet that will help you start to think about, Where is my fear coming from, why do I allow that fear to stay and what's the worst case scenario, and how do I get okay with that and help you to start doing the mental work to manage your own fear as a leader, as soon as you start to see your fear reduce, be a witness to everyone around you, start to watch yourself and others, when you are in a place on a certain day where your fears low never gonna go away, but when you have low fear, look at your team and watch how they just show up differently because you're not bringing fear into the conversation or the room, I want you to really start watching that, because I think what you'll find is as you start to reduce your fear, it's easy to reduce it even more, if you reduce your fear by 10%, and you start to see the progress of that.
0:16:42.4 S1: Then you'll start to see yourself, reduce it by 20, 30, 40, that first jump is the hardest, but then it gets easier and it grows, and then all of a sudden your team's doing better work, therefore your fear goes down and then again, it's this evolution of people working in a fearless environment, man, I'll tell you what, there's a thousand podcasts we can do on a fearless environment, but the baseline of that is you have to remove this fear of right and wrong, the sphere of perfectionism, and then you can start to create fearless teams but to this first piece has to happen, so go out there today, think about what fear you have in your mind and how it's holding you back, where does it come from, and how do you set it on the sideline today just doesn't have to go away 'cause it probably won't, but you can set it on the sideline, it doesn't... You don't have to carry it, it can just be on the side today and really do that work, don't forget to download the coaching worksheet that goes along with this podcast to help you do this work, make sure that you use your mind today to really do some inner coaching, I call it self-coaching, that stuff we do and we talk to ourselves in our head, do that work today, because I really want you to live as a leader that has very low fear, because that is where you do big things, and if you wanna fix leadership, then we have to manage fear in the workplace, and I have no doubt that you can do that.
0:18:13.6 S1: So go out there today, lead in a way in which fear is tiny and off to the side and lead in a way that you promote enthusiasm, engagement, excitement, and an opportunity for people and yourself to do big things.
0:18:30.1 S2: Things for listening to Les fix leadership. By hanging out with me today, you're already on your point, if you're looking to learn more and to see if your company is a good fit for our coaching and leadership education, and Hey, visit 3044 coaching dot com if you got value on this podcast, share it with a friend, and it would mean the world to... If you would, leave a thoughtful review and a rating on iTunes, thanks again for listening, and I appreciate your work and fixing leadership.