I'm not going to lie, I've seen some truly counter-productive leadership behaviors over the years. But there's one specific trait that will hold leaders back, kill collaboration, and derail teams. There's only one word for it...

Perfectionism.

A perfectionist sets goals or standards so high, they are often unrealistic. When they can't achieve their very best (according to their unreachable standards), they may give up, feel like complete failures, and have a difficult time bouncing back. Because they have a "fierce hunger to avoid mistakes," they may conceal them from others, since there's shame attached to their sense of failure.

An executive's antidote to perfectionism, in one sentence.

Katya Andresen, SVP Card Customer Experience at Capital One, understands the grips of perfectionism on a visceral level. She believed that being "perfect" all the time meant striving to be better. She realized she was terribly wrong. The constant drive to avoid mistakes kept her from experimenting -- and embracing her own abilities.

Once Andresen gave up this need to be perfect, it transformed her as a leader. She writes:

Here is what I've learned: the only remedy to the fierce hunger to avoid mistakes is a fierce determination to forgive mistakes.

Tall order for many, but if you're a perfectionist like Andresen used to be, practicing forgiveness has been scientifically proven to have positive benefits.

Psychologist Emma Seppälä, author of The Happiness Track, says this about forgiveness:

"Research shows that forgiveness can help you let go. It can help you move on from upsetting situations more easily so you can reap full enjoyment of the other aspects of your life. You literally lighten up. One study even showed that learning to forgive actually helps people perceive hills as less steep. They are even able to jump higher. While the psychological burden of anger weighs you down, forgiveness lightens your step."

Forgiving oneself is a powerful exercise that requires some introspection. It's looking at your mistakes as a part of life which can provide awesome learning experiences. Forgive first, then learn from each mistake that you make. You'll grow as a result.

For Andresen, once her life lesson began to take shape and applied to her increasing leadership role, she no longer felt hostage to her own impossible standards. Quoting Brené​ Brown, she said, "Perfectionism, despite sounding positive, isn't worth pursuing."

Bringing it home.

Perfectionism in its most unhealthy state can rob you of your productivity and creativity. It can even lead to various health problems. But it doesn't have to be this way.  Once you cut yourself some slack, realize that you're human like everyone else and not broken for making mistakes, you'll be in a much better place. 

Andresen boldly states in her LinkedIn piece, "We must let go of the disappointing delta between the dream of perfection and the reality of imperfection and then forgive ourselves for being a reflection of the real world."

Published on: Jan 30, 2018
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