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Don’t be so hard on yourself

A recent coaching session reminded me how many of us sabotage ourselves in business (and life more generally) as a result of setting unrealistic expectations about what we ‘should’ be able to achieve or how we ‘should’ be.

My coaching client -  a senior manager in a finance business – talked about how he felt that his performance was never as good as it could be and he was always looking to improve.

While on the one hand you might say that this is a good thing from a continuous improvement perspective, for this individual it meant that he never felt that he performed well enough.  As a result, he did not see himself in a particularly good light and often doubted his abilities. This was leading him to feel less confident in his role and in his ability to be an effective leader.

We talked about how he decided what the standard should be for a particular task and he openly admitted that the standards he set for himself were much higher than he would expect of any of his team or colleagues.

Through the profiling we do with our Accelerated Coaching clients we know that some people will tend to focus on what’s right in a particular area while others will easily see things are ‘wrong’ and could be improved.  Both angles are useful, provided they are not over-used.

During the course of a couple of sessions we worked on strategies he could start to use to help feel better about himself and to become more able to accept that mistakes would happen but also that most of the time things went well.

Some of the things he has now put in place to assist are:

  • Noticing when he is criticising himself and reminding himself that his personal standards are very high – probably unrealistically high.  So he allows himself a bit of slack and is more able to accept that not everything will go to plan or perfectly.
  • He is starting to think about how he would rate the performance if one of his team or colleagues performed to that level – as this may be more realistic.
  • Rather than look for multiple things to fix he now looks at identifying one area for improvement plus three areas that went well – to reinforce the fact that most of the time he is doing very good work.
  • He looks to focus more on the process he is following in a particular situation rather than get too worried about the outcome.  This helps to avoid him setting unrealistic expectations and instead to simply go about what he does to the best of his ability without adding additional pressure from worrying about the end result. This is a strategy used by many successful sportsmen and women to withstand the pressure and distractions of highly competitive situations.

If any of the above resonates with you, take heart from knowing that you are not alone.  Many successful leaders set very high standards for themselves.  This may not be an issue unless you tend to see yourself quite critically and your standards are so high that your chance of reaching them is so slim that it never happens.  Then you are likely to begin to doubt your ability and impact on your confidence and self-esteem.

Notice this tendency and look to adopt new strategies to allow you to accept your mistakes and to focus on the things you do well.  What you think of as ‘normal’ or ok performance is likely to be a high standard in many other people’s eyes.


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