Creativity gets crushed under the weight of perfectionism.
We generally learn perfectionism from an early age. People give us accolades for high performance, flawless accuracy, and orderliness. In a world where our peers can’t seem to find the sock drawer, make their beds, or write coherent sentences, we stand out as beacons of virtue; the hope of civilization (in our own minds). We’re convinced that perfectionism is an accomplishment, not an affliction; a virtue, not a vice. We wear it proud, if not loud.
However, the fruit of perfectionism seems less than desirable. It sometimes (and subtly) nurtures a critical spirit within us. “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly” becomes “If they can’t do the job perfectly, they’re not worth keeping.” We’d never say that, of course … maybe. But the heart starts to place value on other people based on their effort and performance rather than any intrinsic value.
Perfectionism also has a close cousin; the fear of failure. We aim high because we sense that if people value us the same way we value them, then our performance (and their approval) is crucial to our sense of self-worth. The more they affirm us and applaud us, the more valuable we become. The dark side of this conclusion is that if we fail, we fear we may lose the respect and followership of others. And, insidiously, the fear of failure grows like a cancer; initially undetected or understated, quietly doing greater and greater damage to our souls.
The repercussions of this for leadership are enormous.
If transformational leadership depends on unlearning conformity and unleashing creativity (and it does), then perfectionism and the fear of failure are public enemy #1. They stunt and sometimes destroy our best efforts.
Creativity is not synonymous with chaos or sloppiness. But it does demand grace. It assumes that the first effort is not the final one; that the first attempt is just the beginning; that multiple iterations are the norm; and that failure is neither fatal nor final.
When we have to birth a fully-formed and perfect prototype on the first try, we will either move so slowly that the creative genius of the moment is lost, or not move at all. And in that moment, creativity is crushed.
Perfectionism is not our friend but a foe. If it has sidled up to you and become your companion, show it the door gently but decisively. Transformational leadership cannot thrive until you do.
David Timms is Dean of the School of Christian Leadership at William Jessup University.
September 11, 2018 at 8:35 am
This truth is so profound! It makes me reevaluate my leadership skills.
September 11, 2018 at 12:05 pm
Nonda, it does the same for me! 🙂
September 11, 2018 at 1:37 pm
“It’s important to remember, success is never final, & Failure is never fatal…”
Thank you David!
(PS – I’m at Mom’s house, it has a ‘Hurricane Room’ built in the house, & we have a generator… As you well know – I’m quite experienced with hurricanes, Florence will make #20 for me. I expect to be fine here in Myrtle Beach)
Ciao – and again, thank you.
September 11, 2018 at 1:41 pm
This is something I imagine you’d gladly be LESS experienced in! Praying for you right now … and for so many others in that part of the world right now.
September 11, 2018 at 4:09 pm
Wonderfully said! Thank you.
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September 18, 2018 at 7:46 am
There’s a lot of issues to be fought through here – personality of course, and our society/culture giving all the kudos to those who seem to be or do perfect. But even another side: if you grew up in abuse, working to be perfect could become the norm. If I’m good enough, smart enough, whatever enough, maybe I’ll be loved, even liked, what I do will be seen to have worth so that makes me have worth……I could go on but you get the picture. It’s taken me years to recognize and fight that. I’m so much better than I was, but being a creative arts person challenges me to allow others their space even as I give myself permission not to have to do perfect, as I can see perfect. Thanks for causing me to look at myself again and how this has affected me.
September 18, 2018 at 7:48 am
Jan, you’ve nailed it. Perfectionism is complex. But freedom is real … and possible. 🙂 Blessings.