Thumbs up in garden, depicting self acceptance

Is it time to stop self-criticising?

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Most of the leaders I work with have self-criticism down to a fine art. What if I told you that self-acceptance is a more effective way to sharpen your leadership?

In demanding roles where the emphasis is on continuous improvement and constantly delivering results, it can be easy to slip into treating yourself as you would treat a process. Analyse and improve, rinse and repeat.

But you’re not a process!

When you’re always looking for negatives in your performance, it can lead to burnout and stress. Constant self-criticism won’t make you a more effective leader in the long run – just a frazzled one. No one steps into a role as a perfect leader with every skill and strength needed for the demands of the role.

Even if you did, in our fast-paced world, the demands placed on leaders are always changing and evolving, and so are you. Self-acceptance means knowing that you’re a work in progress, and probably always will be.

That’s not to say that improvement shouldn’t be a focus. Continuous self-improvement is something we should all be striving for. Self-acceptance allows you to concentrate on getting the best results with the leader you are now. Without losing focus on how to become the leader you want to be.

Self-Acceptance means being honest with yourself

Self-Acceptance is pretty much what it sounds like. Being able to accept yourself – flaws and all. Accepting something doesn’t mean you won’t ever strive to improve it, but it does mean that you don’t berate yourself for not already being there. Some things you may not be able to change, that’s ok too.

By simply being honest with yourself without applying self-criticism, you can see more clearly where your focus should be.

Accepting yourself isn’t only about accepting your flaws; it’s about accepting your strengths too.  By identifying the common threads in your successful projects and identifying what you add that provides value, you can see where your strengths are. Then, when you’re completely clear on what you’re good at, you can direct your focus to achieve better results.

Let go of perfectionism

If you’re a perfectionist, then I don’t want to burst your bubble, but perfectionism isn’t a strength. It’s not a double-edged sword either. It’s a weakness, and it’s holding you back.

There’s a big difference between having high standards and being a perfectionist. It’s admirable to have high standards, but it’s important to apply them to what really matters. If every email you send takes hours because you’re checking and re-checking, regardless of the importance of the outcome, then you’re wasting time.

A leader’s role is strategic, and allowing yourself to get bogged down making every detail of every task perfect can be a real hindrance to performing well. The most successful leaders have their eye of what’s happening around them. They make links and see how things connect, where there are interdependencies, and how things fit into the overall purpose.

Having that kind of big picture view is almost impossible when you spend most of your time bogged down in the tiny details, stressing over getting everything perfect. Instead of getting the job done to a good level, you end up frozen and afraid of failing because of the impossibly high standards you set for yourself.

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If you can’t achieve perfection, it’s OK. Go for good instead. Gretchen Rubin described it this way:

“Instead of pushing yourself to an impossible ‘perfect,’ and therefore getting nowhere, accept ‘good.’ Many things worth doing are worth doing badly.”

Self-acceptance means accepting that you won’t always be perfect, and that it doesn’t matter.

Self-acceptance means embracing both success and failure

Failure happens, even to the best of us. It can be tempting to sweep it under the carpet and just move on. Or even worse, to dwell on it and convince ourselves we aren’t good enough. However, great leaders accept failure as a learning opportunity and a potentially necessary stepping stone to success.

When you’re able to accept yourself, you can accept your role in your failures without beating yourself up. This makes it easier to see the situation clearly and identify all the possible learnings so that you can develop a plan to handle things differently in the future.

It also allows you to accept your part in your own success and identify exactly what strengths and skills you used. Then, you can develop a plan to continue to deliver using those strengths in the future.

Self-acceptance as a leadership tool

So, how does accepting yourself make you a better leader?

It’s one of the four pillars of self-leadership, alongside self-discovery, self-management and self-growth. When you put all four pillars into place, you become a stronger leader who is less distracted by external factors and more motivated to succeed.

Simply by focusing on self-acceptance you can learn how to leverage your unique strengths in the workplace. Knowing, understanding and accepting your weaknesses allows you to display vulnerability and authenticity at work, and helps you engage your people.

Want to learn more about how self-acceptance and self-leadership can help you be a better leader? My online course Find the Real You dives deeper into these topics.

Spaces are limited, so join the next cohort, which starts 20th April 2020.

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