Lessons Learned from a Perfectionist Coach

by LesLee Bickford, Bright Morning Chief Strategy & Program Officer

I learned I was a perfectionist when I was 38. Like many perfectionists, I had up until this point rejected the notion, insisting I just had very high standards. It wasn’t until I was introduced to the Enneagram and begrudgingly accepted that I’m a One that it sank in. Like any good perfectionist, I’m now on a mission to be the best perfectionist I can be (Kidding! Well, mostly…). I have taken this element of myself to heart and have spent some time reflecting on what this means for my coaching relationships. Here are 5 lessons learned from a perfectionist coach on how I’m embracing this aspect of myself while still living my core values and striving to be a transformational coach: 

  1. I must actively tame the never-ending list of all the ways I can be and do better. The most profound lesson I learned in my adult life is that I can’t fully love others if I can’t love myself. The same goes for coaching. If I constantly sit in my own perceived shortcomings, I’m honing that skill to constantly be identifying them in others. And there is no place for that type of judgment in coaching. Embracing a mantra of “I am enough” is not only good for me, it’s good for my clients.  
  2. My role as coach is not to fix things. I love control! I love solutions! I love being able to jump in and say, “here’s what we can do…” and make things better. That’s not coaching and actually undermines the development of the people I’m working with. Most importantly, I don’t actually know the solution. No matter how skilled and committed I am, the client I’m working with is the only one who can unlock the answers. There’s a time and place to save the day; a coaching session isn’t it.   
  3. I must get out of my head in the conversation. I am SO GOOD at quickly thinking of the alternative things I should have said in any given situation, especially when I really care and want to support someone. In coaching conversations this is so dangerous, because while I’m sitting in my regrets, I’m not with my client. My job as a coach is to be present. If there is a question I think of that I could have asked, I jot it down and then get right back in there. In coaching conversations my mind space must be sacred. 
  4. I must get out of my head after the conversation. Relatedly, I’ve spent a lot of time criticizing myself for not taking conversations in the “right” direction. “If I just would have focused on X instead of Y, they would have had a more transformational experience…” I’ve realized how silly, and frankly, egotistical, this line of thinking is. I have no idea what would have been more or less transformational. So I’m adopting an approach of being as prepared and present as possible and then trusting the client to get exactly where they need to be.  
  5. Silence is my friend. Now that I’m attuned to the fact that I’m a perfectionist, I can feel it. When I’m feeling not good enough in any of the above ways everything in me constricts. My stomach is my giveaway. Noticing this, being okay with it (see #1!) and giving myself the gift a deep breath and a couple of beats of silence brings me calm, and normally provides space for my client to go deeper with their own thinking. And that’s why I’m there in the first place.  

Perhaps most importantly, I’ve been reminded that no one thing defines who I am, how I show up or what I can or can’t do. Everyday I get to choose, and the more I understand myself, the better the choices I’m able to make. And the more intentional I am, the deeper relationships I am able to build. And that is the strongest possible foundation for me to coach and lead from.


The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion or position of Bright Morning.