Surface your saboteur

by | Jan 7, 2020 | Leadership

Lately, I’ve been dealing with a severe case of Perfectionism.

As I’ve been launching a new coaching programme and webinar, ironically about reclaiming your confidence, Perfectionism has been “making” me spend inordinate amounts of time head down at my desk making sure I have “everything” in place and that “everything” is “right” before I even think about putting anything Out There.

This is a familiar pattern since my childhood. It’s helped me perform to a certain level at school and in my career, but it doesn’t help me as a 47-year old adult when I need to move from planning to action, to test and develop ideas with others. It’s like struggling to escape a straitjacket.

The thing is, we all have at least one saboteur.

We’re actually only born with two fears when we’re born : the fear of loud noises and the fear of falling. As we grow up, our body-brain develops strategies in response to life experiences to keep us safe and connected with others and these become ingrained patterns of behaviour when we’re under pressure.

Unfortunately, these strategies – perfectionism, people-pleasing and procrastination to name but a few – aren’t always so useful when we’re grown-ups.

For example, so often I work with professional women with young children, perhaps just back from maternity leave, who are logging in to their emails at night and going into the office on their non-working day because they don’t want to let their manager or their team down. The need to people-please trumps their own wellbeing and time with their family, even when they’re not being paid for it.

Surface your saboteur

Knowing what your saboteur is doesn’t mean it will go away, but it does mean that you know what you’re dealing with and can choose to take action to reduce its hold on you.

  • What’s your Chief Saboteur? Perfectionism? People-pleasing? Procrastination? Avoiding conflict? Or perhaps lashing out?
  • When do you notice your saboteur shows up? For example, when you’re responsible for delivering an important report or need to confront an under-performing team member.
  • How has your saboteur helped you in your life? It will have been playing an important role in helping you navigate your childhood and beyond.
  • Where in your life and work is it time to part ways with your saboteur? For example, like me, do you want to be able to embrace “good enough” rather than aspire to the elusive “perfect”? What behaviour do you need to practise to overcome your saboteur?

I’ll leave you with this quote from George Addair, “Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do drop me a line at


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Alison Reid is an experienced executive coach who helps senior managers and directors lead with confidence and step-change their influence and impact. She works with them 1-1, empowering them to focus on what matters, communicate with impact and stay calm under pressure so they can lead themselves and others to great results. She's the author of Unleash Your Leadership : How to Worry Less and Achieve More. Download an extract or buy the book.

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