Positive Self Leadership: Progress, not Perfection

What’s keeping you from developing positive (self) leadership? The list of advantages is compelling. Positive leaders are authentic, open, transparent, trustworthy. They coach and support self and others, they see what is working well and try to amplify that. They give people feedback to keep going and to improve. They’re not on people’s back when the goal is clear. They value intuition as well as the ratio. They can accept criticism. They guard their boundaries and take action.

For many, this is easier said than done though. What keeps professionals from practicing positive leadership, self-leadership included, is perfectionism. Perfectionism is the opposite of positive energy. It is depleting. I see it a lot, working with both leaders and associates in organizations. We put the bar high. We judge and criticize ourselves. If you do that, it’s easy to judge and criticize the others, and their work. It feels fake to notice what is good enough, what is working well, and what you appreciate.

Good enough?

I think most of us recognize bits of perfectionism. It seems perfectionism originates in childhood when our parents and teachers approve of us when we are good, when we conform to the norms.
The pace and demands of our technological society are high. You order something, it’s delivered the next day. You want to conform to that norm. You expect excellence, immediately. From yourself and others.
At work, you’re also supposed to be flawless, rational, valuable. Your leader approves of you when you deliver. You approve of yourself when you do.
So, the question is: Are you good enough?
Or, are you an impostor fearing to be exposed?


Do you have perfectionistic tendencies? Do you set your standards too high, for yourself and others? You keep optimizing and put in some more!
You’re a “mis-matcher”: your inner critic points out what is not okay, not working well, not good enough. You compare yourself to others.
You’re really afraid to fail. And you might be afraid of criticism, of conflict, of saying no, of not being accepted. You find it hard to share your expectations with others and to give them feedback.
You tend to over-think. You keep analyzing and it’s hard to calm down your mind.
You crave control. You know how to do this best. You cannot let others do this. Delegating a task is not easy. Your to-do list is a necessity. You cannot let go and let things be.
It’s hard to make choices. Especially because you believe there must be one perfect choice. What is the one best thing to do?
Sometimes your coping strategy is procrastination. When you’re not prepared, you can’t be perfect, can you? You had too little time so you cannot be accountable for the end result.
But you’re always responsible. You have to do better, you should do this and that. You’re exhausting yourself with the “shoulds”. You see things that need to be done and you do them yourself, right away. How can you wait for the others?
Quitting is for losers, so you go on and on. Even though your body is asking you to slow down.


Not quitting is great: so do not give up on yourself. You, too, can be a positive leader. What is the first step to raising your energy level, and becoming authentic, a positive energizer for others and yourself? Understanding that perfection is an illusion. There’s no such thing on earth. It’s a mental concept. Everything alive is constantly developing and changing. There’s no closure. No one or nothing is ever “done”. There’s always another circle starting when one circle ends.
If you can’t have perfection, a mental end state, there’s only development or progress. Focus on what’s moving, improving, developing. “Progress, not perfection” is the mantra for change, and for life, and for work. You acknowledge where you’re at, how far you’ve come, what is working well and what you want to amplify in the future. You will do your best to develop further.

Second, accept yourself. Accept yourself as a work in progress. As soon as you embrace the “progress not perfection” theme of life and work, it’s easier to accept yourself. You do your best. That’s good enough! You’re great because you’re trying. Self-compassion is helpful, and it builds compassion for others as well.
If you were your own best friend what compliment would you give yourself?
If you were your own best friend how would you defend yourself against the ridiculous impostor accusation? Make a list of all your skills! It’s impressive. If it’s not perfect, it’s certainly good enough! Especially if you compare yourself with others who can do less. Yes, you’re allowed to compare here, this one time. You’re not the worst. You can approve yourself.

Third, it might become easier to let go of the “shoulds”. You shouldn’t do anything and no one needs to approve of you. You approve of yourself. Now you wonder: what would I like to do? What activities to enjoy? Not because you should, and they’re useful, but because you want to do that activity?

Fourth, when you do something you like, notice what goes well. Like a mindfulness exercise. Practice gratitude, but don’t be dogmatic and perfectionistic about it. Someone shared: There are big things that I’m permanently grateful for—family, friends, a warm home, my dog. But I also focus on the smaller things that often get overlooked. Things that we briefly notice but take for granted and quickly forget about. Things like bird tracks in the snow, squeezy hugs, the smell of rain, warm pj’s on a cold night, phone calls from my dad, headache medicine, etc.
Making myself focus on at least one good thing a day, even if I have to dig deep and just be grateful I’m breathing, has helped shift my mindset. Writing it down everyday, got me into the habit of focusing on the positive instead of the negative.”

Laugh and let go. Let go, and get into the flow!

  • What’s your issue with perfectionism?
  • How can you help yourself accept progress – not perfectionism?
  • How can you help yourself notice what is positive?
    Keep going and you’ll be a positive leader for yourself and others!

Do you want to practice positive leadership and energize others more? Enroll in the Positive Culture Academy.

© Marcella Bremer, 2019. All rights reserved.

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