Perfectionist
Image courtesy of victoriadonahuewellness.com

Being a Healthy Perfectionist

Running a simple Google search on “perfectionism” is quite revealing. Journal articles and blogs offer titles that range from “How to Overcome Perfectionism” to “The Pointless Pursuit of Perfectionism” to “The Dark Side of Perfectionism Revealed” to “How Being a Perfectionist Leader is Killing Your Leadership.” It appears our perfectionist friends are taking a beating out there. As if they aren’t already hard enough on themselves! At least, that’s been our experience. The perfectionists that we know are often ruthlessly tough on themselves and research backs that up in three critical ways:

  1. Perfectionism often stems from feelings of unworthiness and shame about failing to live up to the high standards set by self and by others.
  2. There is an extremely high correlation between perfectionism and depression.
  3. Perfectionists are susceptible to imposter syndrome—the fear that they will be exposed as frauds despite holding essential competencies.

But despite the criticism and the internal psychological battle that they face, many people credit their great success to being a perfectionist. Dr. Jeff Szymanski, a clinical psychologist, agrees with them. In his book, The Perfectionist’s Handbook: Take Risks, Invite Criticism, and Make the Most of Your Mistakes, Dr. Szymanski introduces the idea of healthy perfectionism. Citing findings from 20 years of research, he distinguishes between healthy and unhealthy perfectionism:

We’re operating within the realm of healthy perfectionism when our payoffs are greater than our costs. However, our unhealthy perfectionism is at play when our thoughts, behaviors, and strategies are driven by factors like a fear of failure, chronic concerns about making mistakes, constant self-doubting, a fixation on others’ expectations, anxiety about always falling short of self-made goals, and if our costs outweigh our payoffs.

Here’s the good news, being a healthy perfectionist is possible. These are our practical tips to help navigate the journey.

Identify Your Intent
Let’s say it’s time to prepare a report for the board of directors. What do you hope to accomplish in that report? Update them on your work? Share your concerns and ask for their advice? Highlight the strength of your team? Did anyone think, “Write a report that’s worthy of a Pulitzer Prize?” Probably not, and that’s why knowing intent is critical to becoming a healthy perfectionist. When we know what we’re aiming for, we can evaluate our work based on that standard rather than an unrealistic ideal that wasn’t the goal in the first place.

Give Yourself Guardrails
You’re back at your desk reviewing that board report. You are confident that the report meets your goal, and you received all green checkmarks when you ran Microsoft Word Editor. But you just can’t help looking at the third sentence again to see if you can find a better word, even though you’ve already changed it four times thanks to the Thesaurus feature. We believe in executing healthy processes to improve our work, but the key is healthy. That’s why we recommend creating a set of guardrails around tasks. For instance, when we write our weekly emails, the original author prepares an initial draft, runs spell check and Editor, and then passes it along to another partner. That partner conducts an editorial review to enhance clarity, runs spell check and Editor one more time, and then hands it off to the original author. The original author gives it one more scan to confirm their intent for the article didn’t get compromised in the editorial process and gives the green light for publishing. When we create guardrails, we ensure that critical steps are executed and, when we check those off the list, we give ourselves permission to move on to the next task.

Honor the Law of Diminishing Returns
Read the last sentence of the prior paragraph again. Sounds easy, right? But we know it’s not that simple. Sometimes our desire to meet goals and create quality work becomes an obsession. When we find ourselves teetering on that cliff, we can examine our efforts in consideration of the law of diminishing returns. At a certain point, more effort will not produce significantly more gains, and that’s when we need to stop. But how do you know when to stop? That’s where a friend, colleague, or coach can be invaluable. Share your progress and ask for their feedback. If they believe you can add significant value or quality with more time spent, honor that advice. If they think you have hit the mark, trust their input, and move to the next item on your to-do list.

—–

Final Idea to Action: Identify a task (e.g., writing reports, creating PowerPoint presentations) that ignites your perfectionist tendencies. Create a set of guardrails that will honor your desire to produce quality work while giving you permission to stop before you reach the point of diminishing returns. 

Ethos Leadership Group, LLC

Share Today!

Recent Posts

Read More. Lead More.

Shaping Culture
Communication

Shaping Culture

Leaders often feel responsible for cultivating or preserving a high-performing culture, but what role does the traditional employee have in

Read More »

Sign Up Today!

Leadership Content Delivered to Your Inbox

We believe leaders need support and encouragement. That’s why we send emails to our clients and friends with content designed to help us renew and refocus as leaders. If you would like to receive our bimonthly emails, sign up today.

Partner with Ethos

"*" indicates required fields

Name*
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Carol Payne

Ethos Team:

Carol Payne

Operations Assistant

Carol joined Ethos in 2020 after working in revenue cycle management and operations for non-profit and for-profit organizations. A natural helper, Carol takes pride in completing operational tasks that allow her teammates to focus on client-facing work. Carol particularly enjoys preparing Ethos’ daily tweets and bi-weekly leadership content for publication.

Fast Facts:

  1. Lived in 10 states before settling in West Virginia in 2012
  2. Is the mother of three grown children
  3. Enjoys reading and spending time with her family
Aaron Ray, Project Analyst

Ethos Team:

Aaron Ray

Project Analyst

Aaron joined Ethos in 2022 after working in the behavioral health field in various roles, including being a counselor and an adjunct professor. A researcher at heart, Aaron works behind the scenes and alongside clients to connect them to evidence-based methods to achieve their goals. Aaron particularly enjoys gathering data, synthesizing information, and working with the Ethos team to meet clients’ needs.

Fast Facts:

  1. He was born and raised in Northeastern Ohio and is a proud fan of Cleveland’s major sports franchises and The Ohio State Buckeyes
  2. Is a licensed professional counselor in the state of Ohio
  3. Aaron enjoys spending time with his family, smoking meat, and cooking good BBQ

Partner with Ethos

Sherri Ferrell

“Whether it’s using a self-assessment process to identify ways to improve board effectiveness, leading the board in strategy development and succession planning, or assisting with CEO performance evaluations, Ethos is skilled at assessing the scope of a board’s needs and devising strategies to help improve their performance and the performance of their organizations.”

Sherri Ferrell
Chief Executive Officer, West Virginia Primary Care Association
Lisa Jones

“I cannot say enough great things about the strategic planning process with Ethos. The process was not only fun but truly engaging. Becky and David were able to take a multitude of ideas from more than 30 participatory team members and help consolidate them into a workable functional plan. I will definitely use Ethos again for strategic planning and other leadership consulting needs!”

Lisa Jones
Chief Executive Officer, Southern Highlands Community Mental Health Center
Renee Steffen

“Ethos was a true consultative partner in our strategic planning process. They listened to our organization’s feedback and were flexible in incorporating modifications into the process in a way that demonstrated they valued our organization’s culture and history. In addition to walking alongside us every step of the way, Ethos’s facilitation skills are top-notch. They helped move the conversation forward during critical breakthrough moments while ensuring everyone felt heard and valued. Several of our board members commented that it was the best strategic planning process in which they had ever participated. I can tell Ethos has a passion for helping clients move forward in a positive direction and this positive energy was highly evident in our experience working with them. We weren’t just another client but rather, we were a valued partner in the work!”

Renee Steffen
Executive Director, Sisters Health Foundation
Stacy DeCicco

“Our work with the Ethos team has impacted nearly every facet of our organization. Our initial experience engaged our board in a strategic thinking exercise. This half day event was originally scheduled to be an isolated experience; what it became was a launching point for organizational growth, professional development, and intentional, sustainable efforts. Our amazing experience within the strategic planning session brought mission and vision centered decision making to life for our team. The conversations of that day were not simply discussions that were archived and put on a shelf at the end of the meeting. They quickly transformed into digestible, attainable action items. Immediate implementation was possible because of the ongoing support and facilitation we received from the Ethos team. That energy and momentum flowed from the board, through our team, and out to the agencies that we support and engage across the community. We are a stronger organization because we are now able to execute our mission and serve our community better than ever before. The investment Ethos has made with us has created ripples that are felt further than they can ever be measured!”

Stacy DiCicco
Executive Director, United Way Alliance of the Mid‑Ohio Valley
Greg Franks

“Having served in leadership roles for several property management companies, I’ve had the opportunity to work with numerous consulting firms. My experience with Ethos Leadership, which involved an operational analysis of an active adult community with more than 16,000 residents, was one of the best experiences.”

“After spending two weeks embedded with our operational team and reviewing hundreds of documents, Ethos provided a comprehensive analysis and set of recommendations that addressed HR, Infrastructure, Leadership, Finance, Programs & Services, Planning, and Customer Service. Following Ethos’ analysis, we executed a plan to adopt sixteen (16) actionable steps that improved our operations while honoring the culture and values of our company and our client.”

“This entire experience set in motion a plan of execution that the community and its residents have benefited from and will for years to come. I highly recommend Ethos and their entire leadership team.”

Greg Franks
Vice President Southeast Region, AAM
Lisa Leach

“I best describe our organization’s experience of leadership development with Ethos Leadership Group as a journey of discovery that leads to building effective teams who are willing to break the silo mentality that often holds organizations from reaching their true potential. I have watched members of both our Management and C-Suite
levels grow and mature through the process Ethos Leadership Group has developed. Staff actively participates in assisting each other to achieve interdepartmental and strategic goals and share in each other’s successes rather than focus on one another’s missed opportunities. Through the discussion-based approach, our management team has learned to feel more confident in their decisionmaking abilities resulting in more effective and timely decisions. Ethos does a tremendous job of defining characteristics of effective leadership and helping staff to identify how their weaknesses and strengths can work in harmony to achieve organizational goals.”

Lisa Leach
Chief Executive Officer, Southern West Virginia Health System
Wendy Gall

“My time participating in the Ethos Executive Coaching program was a pivotal point
for me both professionally, as a new leader, and personally. Based off of a deep understanding of me as an individual, my coach was able to provide invaluable
insights and practices that helped guide me at a time in my career that was, I have to admit, a bit overwhelming. Our insightful discussions, along with the relationship that grew throughout our time working together, challenged me to grow in my areas of weakness and build on my strength, helped me formulate my thoughts around my leadership style, and provided me the tools and support I needed to gain confidence in becoming the authentic leader I am today.”

Wendy Gall
Director, Customer Care Strategic Initiatives and Innovation, First National Bank of Omaha
Enderson Miranda

“Ethos Leadership has been a trusted partner of OnSomble for several years. All members of our executive team trust and rely on Ethos’ expertise and advice. I have personally benefited tremendously by having Ethos available as a sounding board for strategic decisions over my years as COO and CEO at OnSomble. I can confidently say that Ethos consistently plays an important role in the continued growth and success of our company. I would unequivocally recommend the Ethos Leadership Group to any organization that wants to excel.”

Enderson Miranda
Chief Executive Officer, OnSomble, Inc.
Craig Glover

“The team at Ethos Leadership Group are great partners. They listened to my goals and developed a plan specific to my needs. Often, leadership groups have one approach they try to use for every situation. Ethos is different. Their various tools and approaches allows them to develop a custom plan for your organization.”

“The onsite work with the Ethos team was excellent. They are interactive, engaging, and fun. The session felt like a group of friends having a candid discussion as opposed to a work session. I highly recommend working with Ethos Leadership Group.”

Craig Glover
President and CEO, FamilyCare Health Centers
David Ray - Ethos Leadership Group

Ethos Team:

David Ray

Owner

In 2017, David joined Ethos after leading and advising in the non-profit sector. An organizational troubleshooter and natural synergist, David leverages his analytical and relational skills to help clients take their business and team to their desired next level. With a passion to see others live and lead well, David enjoys connecting leaders to evidence-based practices to boost leadership capacity, build human capital, and improve organizational performance. David particularly enjoys working with clients through strategic planning, executive coaching, and team development.

Fast Facts:

  1. Started his own property investment company at the age of 24
  2. Certified Human Behavior Consultant
  3. David enjoys spending time with his family, traveling to islands, and pretty much anything that has to do with personal development
Rebekah D. Mathis-Stump, J.D. - Ethos Leadership Group

Ethos Team:

Rebekah D. Mathis-Stump, J.D.

Owner

Becky joined Ethos in 2009 after leading the daily operations of five distinct work teams over a ten-year period. An analyst and solution-generator by nature, she works with clients to identify their needs and develops a plan of action to reach their desired results. Having worked in numerous disciplines in her career, Becky brings a broad range of knowledge and experience to our clients. Becky particularly enjoys working with clients on organizational audits, strategic planning, employee training and coaching, and governance.

Fast Facts:

  1. Lived in numerous states growing up, finally claiming West Virginia as home after marrying a native son, Jeff Stump
  2. Received life membership in The Order of the Barristers — a national honor society
  3. Becky enjoys reading, golfing, and cheering on the West Virginia University Mountaineers
Dr. James A. Johnson - Ethos Leadership Group

Ethos Team:

Dr. James A. Johnson

Founder

As our Founder, James encourages us to dream bigger dreams and mentors us to achieve them. James brings this same passion to our clients, skillfully blending inspiration with practical application in his work. James’ primary areas of expertise include leadership and fundraising.

Fast Facts:

  1. Development Officer at Pheasants Forever.
  2. Received President’s Volunteer Service Award (presented by President George W. Bush)
  3. James enjoys spending time with his wife (Lesa), and hunting