Posted by: katherineransone | February 7, 2019

Combating Perfectionism

When researching ideas and articles to write my blog post about, I kept thinking about the idea and pursuit of perfection within leadership. This is something that many women feel is an integral part of achieving leadership roles, and is an idea placed upon women from society from a very young age. I thought that it was interesting that so often, this value is something that seems to impact only women, or is only talked about affecting women primarily, when we all know that it is something that men (and most people) are also exposed to.

Like discussed in the Keohane article, women tend to choose roles that are more “behind the scenes” and have less of an impact on society and culture. Personally, I believe that this relates to the idea that women have to be perfect in order to lead, and that the fears of not being seen as a perfect leader in such a public role of leadership causes many women to choose different roles. I also wonder whether this is a cultural thing, where some women just dislike formal leadership positions, and prefer to lead in a less strict role. In this article, Keohane talked about how when women were first attending Princeton, they took on far more high-profile leadership roles than women do today. I was wondering whether these women coming before those today took on these roles to prove that both them and their successors were able to hold and accomplish the same things that men could in these positions. With a higher freedom of choice for women today, is there a connection between the pursuit of high-profile leadership roles and the simultaneous pursuit of perfection from leaders? People are often raised to be “the best,” with women typically facing much more additional societal pressure – I feel as though women are worried about not being able to be the best leader possible, so they do not seek out these high-profile, often high-risk positions.

I looked up articles about how perfectionism in leadership has a detrimental impact on one’s style of leadership and their overall health. I found an article by Sarah Kauss, who is a CEO of a company that she founded. She stated in the article that her pursuit of perfection in her everyday life has become a bad habit, and that it is causing her to waste time she would have used elsewhere. When preparing to attend a business dinner full of other CEOs, she found that being behind schedule almost made her convince herself to miss the whole event. Situations like these seem to be all too common with many women in leadership – they are too worried about presenting or talking imperfectly, and that action goes on to have an impact on their future. Granted, this is a viable worry as we live in a day and age where women are constantly judged for their appearance. Reaching for perfection may have some positive impact on one’s life and leadership style, but overall it can cause people to lose confidence in themselves.

What do you all think can come out of trying to be perfect, and on the flip side, avoiding the pursuit of perfection? Do you all agree that being authentic and confident is the best way to lead?


  1. I have been thinking about perfectionism and confidence in women since class as well. Our talk about behind the scenes related to my life so well, that it definitely stuck. I thought about in high school playing a sport, I had more confidence so I would take more shots and cared so much about my stats. When I came to college, everyone was so much better and other factors that I lost a lot of my confidence. Because of this, I performed more behind the scenes leadership. I did this because if I made a mistake with it, it wouldn’t matter as much or I wouldn’t get yelled at; oppose to missing a goal. Having confidence is a huge factor that goes into success. I don’t think it is just women not having confidence, because I see a lot of women who have a ton of confidence, but I do think we strive for perfection.

    I also thought about smaller things since class, like going to the gym. Girls immediately judge other women when they walk into the gym. What the are wearing or how fit they look, women will just give other women a look. This is why our confidence struggles, but we do it to ourselves and sometimes without even knowing. I think if we start with small steps like not being so judgmental at the gym and be encouraging, it can go a long way.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your post. I definitely agree with what was discussed. Perfectionism is a huge struggle for leaders. I think followers do expect and hold their leaders to a higher standard than their other team members or equals. I think that leaders should be held to a high moral standard due to the influence they have on their followers but should never have to deal with the pressures of perfectionism. As humans, male or female, we will never achieve perfection in any area of life so putting those expectations is extremely detrimental to our leaders. As people in society we need to be be creating a more grace driven environment for leaders to lead in without fear of ridicule.

    Women in particular do seem to have more of a physical struggle for perfectionism in appearance which can cause internal stress thus effecting their leadership. Also, with so many gender stereotypes in the work place women who are in “socially odd” roles such as typically masculine environments that also causes women to stress more about perfectionism because they are being even more closely watched.

    I do think it is important to point out the men do struggle with this issue of perfectionism as well. They may have been raised to internalize these struggles and hide them from others more than women. In society men are deemed as non emotional so even if men are struggling with not feeling good enough or perfect enough they are less likely to show that than a woman simply because how they were culturally raised.

    I think being authentic and confident are important qualities for leaders. Again, people in high profile roles are going to be held to a higher standard and they themselves should be holding themselves to a high standard but not so high that they hinder their ability to lead. Mental health is really important and I think aiming for perfection can be extremely detrimental on a person’s mental health. When someone is mentally unhealthy this affects everyone around them, their relationships, and their leadership.

  3. This was a great post and really made me think about the aspect of perfectionism as a whole. In the past, when I have been in leadership positions, I have expected myself to be “perfect”, not making mistakes and being the role model for everyone else. I was team captain for cross country and track my junior and senior years, and as a lead runner I felt that I could not mess up or have a bad race. I know that this was not specific to my gender, the team captains on the men’s side felt this pressure and need to be perfect all the time.

    On one hand, this is a good thing, because it pushes and motivates individuals to do their absolute best. If there were not high bars set for these lofty expectations, no one would push themselves to do excel. However, it can also be dangerous. There needs to be a balance between pushing yourself as a role model to hold yourself to a higher standard and being human. In the article, Kauss was worried about being behind in her schedule and being late, so she almost missed an entire event.

    Leaders in general need to realize that it is ok to be human and make mistakes. In fact, it makes the leader all the more relatable. People are more likely to listen and respect someone who they can relate to and understand some of their struggles. Women and men alike need to realize they can strive to be the best and hold themselves to a higher standard – as long as they are remaining true to who they are and not getting caught up in the goal of “perfectionism”.

  4. I am not going to lie – I think this article was written for/about me. I was that girl who strove for perfection in everything in high school. I prided myself on it, thinking that it was such a good thing to be perfect. However, the word that was used in the article and the word I often feel most relates to me is drained. Striving for perfection left me drained. Tired. Exhausted. Defeated. I was never completely satisfied. And I think a lot of what I am saying right now is true to many individuals today. Leaders feel like they have to constantly be perfect. They feel like they can’t mess up for the sake of them losing or keeping their job. I liked this article a lot because it finally shed light on the other side of perfectionism. Imperfectionism. To me, this is such a bigger characteristic of a leader. Because a leader is being able to understand and acknowledge those imperfections. We are all imperfect yet we strive to be perfect. We are always going to sell ourselves short and never feel fulfilled. At the end of the day, I think the best way to address this is, in fact, to be authentic and confident. Many leaders who are authentic and confident still make mistakes. But their ability to acknowledge and understand what they are doing and why they are doing it rather than putting up a facade and falling short is more respectable to many followers. At the end of the day, none of us will ever be perfect, so why waste our breath trying to be just that.

  5. I really liked this article and enjoyed our conversation we had in class about perfection because I think it is really interesting. I would definitely call myself a perfectionist and while it is a good trait in some regards, it can also be detrimental as a leader. I have realized that as a perfectionist I want to do everything myself because I do not think something will get done right otherwise. I think that can be true to many people that are perfectionist and like Alexis said, it is very draining, especially as a leader. Leaders should be able to have confidence in their followers as well as themselves and should trust that they will perform their tasks well. I think it is very important for leaders to recognize imperfections and and be alright with the fact that not everything can be perfect. I also think it is crucial for leaders to have confidence in themselves because if they do not, they will not be able to have confidence in their followers.

  6. This post was super interesting, and I think the theme of perfectionism is one that will pop up more than once throughout the course of the semester. I suffer from Sarah’s conflict; I find myself trying to perfect in many aspects of my life. I don’t like to submit work unless it’s my best and I feel horrible when I can’t put my full effort into an assignment. While this has been a useful trait throughout my college career (and hopefully beyond) it does have some limitations. It is exhausting. I wouldn’t say that I miss out on things like Sarah, but I do stress myself out over getting something to be perfect. I also am less likely to ask for help; up until recently, I didn’t believe that perfect people needed help (I was very wrong).

    As a leader, I feel like it’s important to strike a balance between embracing perfection and imperfection. The truth is, no one is perfect, and mistakes allow us to learn and grow. A leader can set an excellent example by making a mistake by reacting to it in an appropriate way; demonstrating a growth mindset is something that can go a long way. That being said, a certain amount of perfectionism may also help an organization run smoothly and enable followers to have more faith in their leader.

  7. While reading your post your paragraph talking about women not wanting to lead up front and its correlation to perfectionism really stood out to me. I think we can all agree that people, especially women, feel the pressure and the need to be “perfect”. You mentioned that women may fear the public role of a leader because they feel they are not “the best”. We’ve also talked about how women are each others greatest critic. I think part of the reason women may not want to be in public roles is because it puts them on a platform to be judged by others. Women feel like they need to achieve “perfection” and I think they may also expect that from other women as well. In that public leadership role, their flaws are emphasized and it sets them up to be criticized by others.

  8. We talked a bit about perfection last Thursday and I think it is a great topic to dive into. You ended your post by asking the question of what can come out of trying to be perfect. The answer to this question is simple. The best case scenario is that someone could actually become perfect while trying to be perfect. However simple the answer may seem to me, it is not very viable as most people will never be perfect in everyone’s eyes. I do think that everyone should strive to be perfect. In leadership and in life. But the main distinction that I would like to make is that the perfection that you are striving for is completely subjective. If you are a woman in leadership, you should not feel like you have to make yourself perfect in everyone’s eyes. Leaders are never going to be able to make every single person in their organization happy. In that case, I would say that striving to be authentic, true, and honest leaders is better for women (and for men). This could be your perfection. If a woman wants to be CEO, wants to be more masculine, wants to use agentic leadership styles, she should be able to without ridicule or thoughts of mistake. Everyone makes mistakes and nobody is perfect. Striving for personal perfection is how women (and men) should be approaching their leadership styles.

  9. Trying to be perfect is something that I struggle with. I wasn’t raised in a way that expected perfection, but rather the best I can be. I’ve always wondered if it was society that shaped this idea for me. There are many things I don’t need feel the need to be perfect for. I don’t feel the need to make a 100% on exams or even make straight As. However, as we have been discussing in class, I feel the need to mark off all qualifications before I apply for a leadership role. I think that to discourage this need for perfection, we can encourage more people to lead. I am a huge believer in authentic leadership. Leaders should recognize their mistakes and grow from them, while holding true to their values. Leaders are people too, and by having understanding followers, we can let leaders off the hook from being perfect.

  10. As someone who has spent more than half my life worrying about my self-image, I can confidently say that the looming idea of perfection for women is something everyone struggles with. From such a young age, we are shown what the “perfect” body is, what the “perfect” job is, as well as the “perfect” life is. I put the word perfect in parenthesis because “perfection” isn’t real. Perfection is a toxic social construct society has created in order to oppress and control not only women, but those of all gender identities. When you mentioned the article of Sarah Kauss, who missed an important dinner with CEOs due to all of the time she wasted trying to be “perfectly” presentable, I was surprised that a woman in such an important position let her image get the best of her. To be honest, I would be lying if I said that I still wasn’t affected by letting my own image getting the best of myself. Even this morning, I spent 30 extra minutes getting ready “to be presentable”, when I could have been spending these 30 minutes doing more important things like school work or studying. Overall, perfection is only another obstacle (that shows up more than expected) in the labyrinth women face when trying to succeed in the world.

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