caneel logo white

Embracing Progress over Perfection: A Journey in Leadership

progress is greater than perfectionism


Leading in challenging times is a weighty responsibility that many CEOs, managers, executives, and parents can relate to. The burden of carrying this responsibility often leads us to confront our own limitations, strengths, and opportunities for growth.

Like countless other leaders, Jess Kolko, a Transformation and Nutrition Senior Team Leader at Whole Foods, found her leadership put to the test during the global upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She was successful. Here’s how you can be too: Challenging perfectionism, embracing vulnerability, and aiming for progress, not perfection.

The Perfectionism Struggle

Perfectionism is a common struggle for many people, accompanied by often unattainable standards. For a significant portion of her life, Jess Kolko grappled with perfectionism. It became a recurring theme in her personal and professional growth journey.

However, she came to a realization that vulnerability and acknowledging imperfections could be strengths. There is a liberation that comes with authenticity and self-acceptance. The more you criticize yourself, the more you head below the line. But when you rise above the line and embrace radical self-acceptance, you empower yourself.

Embrace Vulnerability

One of the most challenging aspects of perfectionism is the fear of making mistakes and the subsequent pressure to hide or cover them up. However, it is inevitable that mistakes will be made. What sets leaders apart is how they handle those mistakes.

Leaders who attempt to sweep their mistakes under the rug only encounter greater challenges later on. It creates a culture where people cannot be fallible humans. This approach is not only unrealistic but also destroys trust and psychological safety within a team.

When you choose to acknowledge your missteps and share them without shame or judgment, you create an atmosphere of acceptance and vulnerability within your team. By setting an example of humility and embracing your imperfections, you can foster an environment where team members feel comfortable acknowledging their own humanity, especially when the world around them is in chaos.

Aim for Progress, Not Perfection

In the pursuit of perfection, it is easy to become trapped within the confines of established norms and comfortable routines. The belief that avoiding risks will prevent failure may seem logical, but it also hinders growth and innovation. Sticking to the status quo can cause you to miss out on valuable opportunities.

To ensure that business growth continues even during times of uncertainty, it is essential to prioritize personal growth. Creating a culture of continual growth, innovation, and open-mindedness starts with you as the leader.

You can create an environment where progress is valued more than unattainable perfection, and what could be more perfect than that?

Jess Kolko’s journey in leadership exemplifies the transformative power of challenging perfectionism and embracing progress. By acknowledging vulnerability, owning mistakes, and seeking growth through coaching, Jess has grown both personally and professionally. Her story serves as a reminder that leaders, just like everyone else, are human beings with limitations and room for improvement.

When leaders let go of the need for perfection and instead focus on progress, they create an environment that fosters authenticity, growth, and innovation. By valuing progress over perfection, leaders can inspire their teams and contribute to positive change in their organizations.

Leadership in challenging times requires a willingness to confront our own imperfections and embrace progress over perfection. Jess Kolko’s journey serves as an example of how leaders can grow and thrive by challenging perfectionism, embracing vulnerability, and aiming for progress. By creating a culture of acceptance, vulnerability, and continual growth, leaders can inspire their teams and foster an environment that encourages authenticity and innovation. Let us remember that leaders are not infallible, but their ability to acknowledge their humanity and prioritize progress sets them apart. As we navigate the ever-changing landscape of leadership, let us embrace progress and continue to evolve, both personally and professionally.

This article is related to my interview with Jess Kolko – Listen here. 

Photography by Kelley Raye //

Dr. Caneel Joyce is a CEO Coach and social scientist who helps people break out of the invisible traps and make whole-life changes easily and naturally.

Let's connect