A Coaching Power Tool By Serena Truong, Executive Coach, SINGAPORE
How to Strive For Progress vs. Perfection
This paper covers the ideology that as coaches we should help our clients to see that achieving progress is more important than achieving progression and discuss the challenges that our clients would face if they are fixated on achieving perfection before they are comfortable to progress any further in your journey.
Several high achievers are perfectionists. However, not all perfectionists are high achievers. There are some key differences between a high achiever and a perfectionist. Both high achievers and perfectionists tend to set and strive to achieve high targets. However, a perfectionist is someone who strains compulsively and unceasingly towards unattainable goals and does not accept anything short of perfection. Achievement of 99% is not acceptable to a perfectionist and a perfectionist lives with an inherent fear of not being able to be perfect. As a result of this expectation, perfectionists tend to exhibit traits such as the fear of failure, procrastination, being over-focused on results, being highly critical, setting unrealistic standards, and constantly feeling unfulfilled.
In today’s world where the rate of change is far greater and faster than it ever has been, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to achieve perfection. As a result, a perfectionist would find it very difficult to move forward with each milestone towards reaching their goal as these milestones and goals are moving targets and achieving perfection with each of these milestones is almost impossible. This hinders growth and retards the perfectionist from experiencing the joy of learning as the perfectionist is constantly putting himself or herself under pressure to achieve perfection in each milestone before they are willing to move forward.
Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford University who is known for her work on Mindset defines a person having a Growth mindset as an individual who believes their talent can be developed through hard work, good strategies, and input from others. Having such a view creates a love of learning and resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. (Dweck, 2015) Her research has shown that individuals with a growth mindset achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset. Companies that embrace a growth mindset report employees feeling far more empowered and committed. These employees also receive far greater organizational support for collaboration and innovation. A person with a growth mindset enjoys learning and would favor progress and the opportunity to learn as they progress towards their growth.
On the contrary, a person with a fixed mindset is someone who believes that their basic qualities like intelligence or talent are simply fixed traits, and they spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. Employees who are at fixed-mindset companies report cheating and deception among employees – presumably to gain an advantage in the talent race. Therefore, people who are a part of organizations that have a fixed mindset tend to adopt a perfectionistic view on their jobs and are afraid to make mistakes or to share their development opportunities or learnings with the team for the fear of being judged. This mindset results indirectly in employees constantly feeling unfulfilled, afraid of making mistakes, and procrastinating to make decisions. People who have a fixed mindset are less focused on learning and blame themselves for their failure. To be viewed favorably and to avoid being blamed (as they view this as a reflection of their self-worth), these individuals strive to achieve perfection, seek validation from others, and are reluctant to move forward if perfection is not achieved at any point of their milestone towards their goals.
If a client is adopting a perfectionist mindset that does not serve them, a coach can support and help the client by reframing their perspective on the situation and to help them to see that progression and taking steps towards achieving their goals would lead them to be more fulfilled and to enjoy their journey of learning.
Progress vs. Perfection Explanation
Perfectionistmeasure their self-worth by productivity and accomplishment. Pressuring themselves to achieve unrealistic goals inevitably sets them up for disappointment. Perfectionists tend to be harsh critics of themselves when they fail to meet their expectations.
It is an irony that a perfectionist who avoids making mistakes at all costs and associates their achievement of a perfect result with their talent and self-worth denies themselves the opportunity to learn and to progress thereby, making it even more difficult to achieve the high goals and targets they have set for themselves. Perfectionist tendencies have been linked to clinical issues such as depression, anxiety, self-harm, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, binge eating, anorexia, bulimia, chronic headaches, and even early mortality and suicide.
The greatest fear of a perfectionist is not meeting perfection in what they embark upon. The fear of failure results in procrastination which in turn robs the perfectionist of an opportunity to grow and learn.
Progress is defined as moving forward or onward towards a destination. Progress as a verb is defined as developing towards an improved or more advanced condition. Progress is seen as a process and is less likely associated with the value of the individual. If an individual adopts the mindset of having progression over perfection, the individual would be able to achieve small accomplishments in their learning journey, thereby building their confidence to take on the next steps. This would result in an upward spiral movement as the individual learns, adapts, and moves towards their goals.
Progression is an important step in learning and towards achieving greater heights. We learn through acknowledging mistakes and reflecting on what went wrong. Without progression, mistakes cannot be made and the learning process is halted. In a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex,x, and Ambiguous) world where change is the only constant, progression and adaptability are prized as the traits to adopt in bringing the society and the world towards greater heights.
Shift Perspective FromProgress vs. Perfection
As coaches, we can help our client to shift their perspective from perfection to progression if the mindset of perfection is limiting their ability to move forward and to grow.
Coaches can utilize this Power Tool when they identify that a client is hesitating to move forward towards these goals because of their fear of failure or of making the wrong decision. Another situation in which coaches can use this Power Tool is when a client is stuck in a situation where they are reiterating their options repeatedly without resolving for an extended period.
We can help our clients to see that what they are embarking on is a journey and not an end in itself; we can help our clients to embrace and enjoy the journey of learning. By adopting a mindset of progress over perfection, the burden of having to get it right all the time is removed from our clients and they are better able to move forward with their learning and enjoy the progress of doing so. Simon Sinek, an inspirational speaker and the author of the book Start with Why and The Infinite Game puts it in another way.. the term failure is viewed negatively by individuals. However, falling is viewed as part of a learning journey. Perhaps, if we can get our clients to see that if they fall as they progress towards their goal, it is a great opportunity for them to learn and it would not be detrimental towards them achieving their ultimate goal. After all, falling is all a part of the learning process to ultimately reach the end goal. Quoting Robin Sharma, a Canadian writer best known for his The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari Book series, “There are no mistakes in life, only lessons. There is no such thing as a negative experience, only opportunities to grow, learn, and advance along the road of self-mastery…”
Potential questions that a coach can use to help the client to see an alternative perspective include:
- What is preventing you from moving forward?
- What would looking at it differently give you?
- What other options do you have?
- What is it that is getting in the way of you …?
- What have you learned previously that you can apply to this situation?
- What would your successful self say to you right now?
- How does the fear of failure serve you?
- What opportunities would you be losing out while waiting to reach perfection?
- What would you need to be able to move forward in this situation?
- What is the hardest/ most challenging part for you?
Coaching as a Profession Is a Learning Journey
In one of the mentor coaching sessions in which I participated as a client, I spoke about my fear of taking on my own first mentor coaching session. The thought of coaching someone in front of a group of people was daunting to me. I had at that time, completed 70% of my theory classes and had sat in on numerous mentor coaching sessions as an observer. I had also started my peer coaching sessions.
As I was coached through my dilemma, I realized that it was my perception of fear that was holding me back. I realized that a mentor coaching session was a great opportunity for me to learn and the most benefit I could get from the mentor coaching session was to make mistakes (because only then could I know what these areas for improvement were and I could then have the opportunity to work on them). No one was expecting me to be perfect in my first mentor coaching session and it was a mental block that I had imposed on myself. I realized that coaching as a profession is a learning journey in itself and that an excellent coach is someone who realizes that he/she is on a journey and that the learning would never stop.
Encourage a Team To Progress vs. Perfection
I first heard this term of Progress over Perfection in 2010 when the MD of the organization I was a part of using this term to encourage a team to move forward with our plans. We had just emerged from the 2008 economic crisis where the Financial Industry (the industry which I was working in at that time) was the most badly hit. Redundancies were common amongst the organizations in the industry and everyone was fearful of losing their jobs. At the same time, there was fierce competition in the industry for business and we had to make tough decisions as a company to progress. However, the leaders were hesitant to take decisions that came with some amount of risk as there was fear of being blamed and losing their jobs if the decision taken was not correct.
The MD spoke to the leadership team and encouraged the team to move forward with their plans. The MD wanted Progress over Perfection. The MD assured us that she would back us up regardless of how the decision went and that gave the team confidence to proceed with some of our plans.
I have since moved on in my career and have witnessed many managers who are reluctant to make decisions or to thread on the untrodden path. Many times, we are fearful of the consequence of making a wrong decision or of embarking on a journey in which we are not confident we can be successful. That anxiety and fear if not allayed would result in lost opportunities to have a different experience and to learn from our experiences. Therefore, it is important that as coaches, we help our clients see beyond the action they are taking – focusing instead on the opportunity to learn and the opportunity to experience something different. Helping them to see that progress instead of perfection is a perspective that they should consider. No losses, only lesson.
Perfectionism (psychology) - Wikipedia
The dangerous downsides of perfectionism - BBC Future
5 Ways To Turn Your Mistake Into A Valuable Life Lesson (forbes.com)