When I first thought about being a leader in my career, I thought it meant that I would have control; it would be all about me! What better goal for a perfectionist control freak like me?! But fortunately, I learned an important lesson in a hurry: leadership is not about a role or title or promotion, and it’s not about control. Rather, true leaders are those whom others choose to follow. And to be that person, I had to let go of the control thing and replace it with positive influence, because being a leader was NOT about me but about those I was endeavoring to lead and the impact I could have on them.
This has meant practicing humility, which opened me up to asking, to listening, to considering another viewpoint, to accepting that I will make mistakes, and to learning from them when I do. It also opened up my humanity. Years ago, when I was at a law firm and working a late night, I confided in my paralegal about some tough personal issues I was having but had been trying to mask. The next day, she asked, “Can I tell you something, and promise you won’t get mad?” “Sure,” I said, rather warily. She blurted out, “I love you so much more now that I know you’re not perfect!” That simple communication led to the realization that we can have such a greater impact on the people we touch when we are not afraid to show that we, too, are human and vulnerable. While we may think we want role models who are “perfect,” or infallible,” those are impossible standards that put role models out of reach. It’s better for those who look to us for leadership to know that we are human and yet, despite all of our challenges, we are able to overcome them and lead.
As I continued to learn, I liberated myself from the heavy burdens of perfectionism and control, which was an exhausting trap — a sickness really. I consciously went into recovery mode and now think of myself as a “recovering perfectionist control freak” – always on the alert for the uncomfortable feeling of not being in control and not having everything completely buttoned up and able to talk myself back to comfort in the uncomfortable (even laughing about it sometimes!). I feel more like who I really am, rather than who I was trying to be.