Three Habits that Hold Women Leaders Back

The perfection trap

Many women I coach talk about their desire to compete with their colleagues and be seen as contenders for the next promotion when it emerges. Most women get left out of the running in spite of their efforts.

They tell me how hard they have worked to gain a good understanding of their jobs and to learn everything that they can to become experts in their departments or field. They know that they can do things better, with more accuracy and attention to small details than their counterparts. They are good at their jobs so are at a loss as to why they didn’t get the promotion.

What is going on?

Three Bad Habits

Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith blame Habit 3 – Overvaluing Expertise, Habit 6 – Putting your Job before your Career and Habit 7 – The Perfection Trap as the culprits for holding women back in this example.

What can you do?

If you are concerned about getting a solid foundation in understanding your job and do not want to be held hostage by this behavior, what can you do?

How do you stop yourself from staying on the hamster wheel of seeking perfection?

Look up and out at the thousand-foot view of what the job entails. Looking at the minute details keeps your head down, only seeing things microscopically. It is time to look up at a telescopic view with all the dimensions that you bring to the job, including your connections and past experience. How can you leverage these?


Who already knows more than you? Are you using their expertise to build on your knowledge?

Have you asked what the real expectations are? As women, we assume that we need to know what to do or need to find that out on our own. This is not true. We need to learn to ask the right questions up front to test these assumptions.

Here are some questions that might help you break these two habits:

  • What are the expectations for this project or report with regard to detail?
  • Is there someone I can use as a resource to speed up my learning?
  • How important is perfection for the outcome of this project?
  • What is important for my career advancement beyond this job?

Now all you have to do is stop judging yourself based on old standards that might not apply.

Engage an accountability buddy to keep you honest and keep you away from the “one last thing then you’ll stop” habit.

Life is too short to stuff a mushroom.

I will be your accountability buddy. Email me if you are serious about getting ahead with your leadership career quicker.​


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