Whether you work in an organization or as a solopreneur, perfectionism, the first of our Five barriers to highly effective leadership, is the enemy of both creativity and growth. We’ve all met people who set impossible expectations for themselves. You know who you are! The problem is you are in danger of stifling creativity at best, or missing a vital opportunity at worst. In both cases, you’re never quite ready to let go.

First, look on the bright side. Things would be a lot worse if you didn’t care about the outcome and were happy to finish projects knowing they were substandard.

So what’s behind perfectionism? At the root, the cause is fear. Fear of not getting it right, fear of you and your project failing because you aren’t good enough or because the world will reject your offering.

If it is about fear, you could do worse than heed the advice from surrealist painter Salvador Dali,

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”


“I already know that, but I still aim for it.” I hear you cry.

I remember the first time I did a one woman show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I spent months on my script and then did countless previews to practice and hone the delivery. On opening night, I got through the hour forgetting none of the one-liners and punchlines. The problem was, I had sacrificed a freewheeling expressive delivery for a stuttering staccato delivery.

The next night, I let go of my script and delivered a freer, conversational piece which was far better received. Did I need to prepare as much? Yes, I did as without preparation we are nothing.

But what I had failed to do was to let go of the script. Great actors and Professional Speakers learn their scripts and then let go of them, so the lines come into their heads when they need to.

The perfectionist prepares, but never trust themselves to let go.

I’ve discussed fear in previous blogs, so won’t dive into the “how to” element here. Save to say as a leader it’s important to recognise perfectionism is performing a protective role as a control mechanism for the mind.

We are all individuals and will have formed beliefs as a result of our experiences. If Perfectionism is being employed as a device to protect you, you’ll need to get clear on why. Are you fearful of rejection or are you scared of failure? Are you worried that you are not enough or are you scared of being seen as wearing the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ and the world will discover you’re a fraud?
Take it to your coach or therapist as, left unresolved, it will prevent you from the very success you crave. 

What might you add as an aid to overcoming perfectionism?

Next time, I’ll be looking at Burnout.