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Ditch Perfectionism to Become a Self-Aware Leader

April Article-8

A self-aware leader not only supports stronger teams, but it also aids in decision-making and efficiency. However, perfectionism can become a major stumbling-block for leaders hoping to build self-awareness. With a heavy focus on constant growth and producing results, perfectionism can erode a leader’s awareness of their own values and needs. By discovering how to release yourself from any perfectionist behaviors you might hold onto, you’ll be free to develop into a self-aware leader that your team can count on.

What is Self-Awareness?

While it has become the latest buzzword in the business world, many of us don’t know what self-awareness is or how to attain it. In a multi-year study conducted by Tasha Eurich, 95 percent of people believed they were self-aware while only 10-15 percent of that group actually possessed that characteristic. Eurich defines self-awareness as both an internal and external process in which a person balances their values and self-perception with how others view them. Both internal and external self-awareness require emotional intelligence, which can be developed to help you understand your emotions and the emotions of others. By finding the balance between the internal and the external, you can become a leader that knows what matters to you on a personal level while also seeking feedback from the people around you.

How do Perfectionists Struggle With Self-Awareness?

Perfectionism can often go unquestioned because there are many perks to this behavior in the work environment. Typically, perfectionists are conscientious, high-achieving and committed to meeting deadlines. However, with such a heavy focus on how others perceive them (perfectionists usually possess strong external self-awareness), it’s easy for these types to become people-pleasers and lose track of their own values and passions (a lack of internal self-awareness). Over time, this can lead to choices that are personally unfulfilling, snowballing into more detrimental problems like burnout and a lack of purpose. While it’s easy for perfectionists to see value in the views of other people, they need to work on balancing their external awareness with their equally necessary inner values.

How to Release Perfectionism in Favor of Self-Awareness

Learning to release perfectionism at work can be difficult and vulnerable, but there are several strategies you can try to overcome this challenge and achieve a healthier work-life balance:

1.)   Define Your Values

The key to internal self-awareness is learning what you want out of life. Take some time to reflect on past experiences that have made you feel happy or satisfied at work. When asking yourself these questions, tread carefully when it comes to “why” questions. When we ask why we feel something, we’re attempting to tap into subconscious feelings that we don’t have much access to, making it more likely that we jump to incorrect conclusions about ourselves that feel right but aren’t true. This type of questioning can also invite negativity, since asking why we are the way we are can imply that our feelings are problems that need to be solved or explained. Instead, try “what” questions to stay objective about yourself and focused on the future.

As you develop your values, also consider focusing on process over product. A good value is one that can be achieved without ever needing to leave your house. This is because values are all about your approach to life rather than any projected outcome. Focusing on the process gives you permission to embrace failure as part of the learning journey, encouraging a growth mindset necessary for true self-awareness.

2.)   Rest and Delegate

Once you redefine your values, you may realize that you need to reorganize your responsibilities to focus on fulfilling work. However, delegating work can be hard for perfectionists, who like things done to their high expectations. Even though it’s challenging to hand responsibilities to others and have faith that they accomplish the task, it’s unreasonable to be seen as an expert in everything amid growing complexity. It’s imperative as a leader to place trust in your people and provide new opportunities for your team to grow.

It’s also important to rest and remember that laziness might be a disguise for exhaustion. Often what we describe as laziness is signaling the body’s need for rest. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep and consider not optimizing your life or your schedule for productivity. Invite self-care practices into your routine and have compassion in moments where you may not be able to accomplish everything you hoped to in a day. You aren’t a robot. It’s your imperfect human qualities that make you a great leader. Embracing that objective reality will help you to become more fulfilled and better equipped to lead effectively.

3.)   Seek Feedback

Even though you are likely very cognizant about the needs and views of others, you aren’t a mind reader. We’re often our own worst critics, so it’s important to fight inner bias by seeking feedback from friends and coworkers. While feedback improves self-awareness, it also has the added effect of building psychological safety and communication within teams.Your peers will start to feel more comfortable giving and receiving honest and constructive feedback when their perspective is heard and accepted without backlash. By receiving feedback that’s based in reality, you’ll feel less stressed out by self-imposed high standards and be able to lead with true self-awareness.


Perfectionism encourages high-achieving and conscientiousness in work, but it also drags you farther away from personal fulfillment. By connecting with your internal values, you can rebalance your internal and external perspective to achieve true self-awareness. Learning and Development can help facilitate much of this personal reflection with team-wide self-awareness workshops, as well as teach topics related to self-care and creating avenues for communicating and receiving feedback. By creating space for rest, giving voice to our values and gratefully accepting feedback, we can learn to balance out perfectionistic tendencies and live as self-aware leaders. 


Allie Burns

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