Skip to main content

Leadership + Learning + Perfection

Illuminating White Supremacy Culture Part 2

How do you see perfection showing up in your life, community, and organization(s)? Are you striving for the perfect hair, weight, career, home, kids, or reputation, working to be the perfect leader, team member, partner, or friend?

Earlier this month, we discussed the importance of seeing oppression. We tend to explain it away or inhale it unconsciously like the invisible air we breathe. We can’t work for liberation if we can’t see oppression.

To take it a step further than an introduction to White Supremacy Culture’s Characteristics, readers have asked me to unpack these characteristics and, most importantly, define antidotes to help us see oppressive practices that are expected to be true, right, helpful, or accepting blindly the way we do things.

We will focus the next series on Perfectionism, One Right Way, Paternalism, and Objectivity and their relationship to leadership and learning.

Let’s start with perfection.

Perfectionism is exhibited when:

  • Mistakes are seen as personal, i.e., they reflect poorly on the person making them as opposed to being seen for what they are – mistakes;
  • Making a mistake is confused with being a mistake, doing wrong with being wrong;
  • The person making the “mistake” or doing something “wrong” rarely participates in defining what doing it “right” looks like or whether a “mistake” actually occurred;
  • Little time, energy, or money is put into reflection or identifying lessons learned that could improve practice. In other words, there is little or no learning from mistakes and/or little investigation of what is considered a mistake and why;
  • A tendency to identify what’s wrong; little ability to identify, name, define, and appreciate what’s right; (Okun, 2021)

Do you see evidence of these in yourself, your relationships, or your organizations?

012523 _Deanna Blog Image 2I used to be fragile about my mistakes. I’d remember them for weeks or years, reliving my humiliation, holding onto my embarrassment, and beating myself up for not being perfect and blameless. I was like a conglomeration of mistakes without the ability to accept my growth and learning.

Despising myself and others because of our lack of perfection, while venerating supposedly blameless leaders that were typically cisgender, hetero, white males. The dissonance was confusing and palpable.

Leaders within a system that holds people on unrealistic pedestals of perfection are bound to fail. How can one work to make organizations more equitable and inclusive when perfection is held as the ideal?

Growth and learning include making mistakes, a lot of them. Growth can be painful as we stretch, grow, and expand. It takes bravery, healthy organizational cultures, and learning-focused organizations.

I noticed that team members and executives around me didn’t always know the answers. It wasn’t just me. They made plenty of mistakes, but they were rarely willing to admit them. The facade of the myth of perfection started to crack.

A primary way to combat toxic cultures of perfection is to develop a learning culture. Leaders that embed learning systems and mindsets into their organizations thrive and are more effective at living out the promise of their vision, mission, and values. Do you see those around you valuing and embedding a learning culture into the organization?

A learning organization is an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights. (Garvin, 1993)

012523 _Deanna Blog Quote


Perfection is a lie. It’s an unattainable, toxic myth that paralyzes while promising a lie of motivation and growth.

Hope is not lost.

Okun shares some antidotes to perfectionism:

  • Develop a culture of appreciation; take time to make sure that everyone’s work012523 _Deanna Blog Image 1 and efforts are appreciated;
  • Develop a learning community or organization where the stated expectation is that everyone will make mistakes and those mistakes offer opportunities for learning;
  • Create a culture of support that recognizes how mistakes sometimes lead to positive results;
  • Separate the person from the mistake; when offering feedback, always speak to what went well before offering critical feedback; when a mistake is jointly or collectively acknowledged, ask for specific suggestions about what the person or group has learned and how we would do things differently moving forward;
  • Realize that being your own worst critic does not actually improve the work, often contributes to low morale among the group, and does not help you or the group realize the benefit of learning from mistakes; if you are constantly criticizing yourself in your relationships with others, you focus the attention on you, on support for you, rather than on the issue at hand; (Okun, 2021)

How do you handle it when you make a mistake, big or small? What do you think about yourself, about what others will think of you? Do you give yourself and others space to learn and grow?

Fellow leaders and learners, I wish you courage and resilience for the journey.

Deanna Signature



What Im Reading-1


What I'm Reading:


Questions to Consider


Questions for Consideration Regarding This Topic:

      1. Where do you see perfectionism celebrated or expected (overtly or subtly)?

      2. How have you experienced these antidotes? What did that feel like? What kind of culture resulted?

      3. Which antidotes have you tried? Which ones do you want to embody?

Upcoming Topics


Related Leadership & Learning Letter Topics:


Deanna Rolffs (they/them)
Post by Deanna Rolffs (they/them)
January 25, 2023
Deanna Rolffs (they/them) is a strategist, facilitator, coach, systems thinker, and Process Consultant who works with executive leaders and teams at the intersection of organizational theory, leadership development, justice, and equity. Their process consulting approach focuses on organizational transformation via thriving teams, brave leadership, equitable systems, and inclusive communities. Deanna served as a Senior Consultant with Design Group International since 2018, became a Senior Design Partner in 2021, and launched L3 Catalyst Group in 2023.