As an organizational psychologist and having worked 28 years with the top three levels in Fortune 100 companies, I’ve noticed some common themes with some of the most successful people in the world. See if you can identify with any of these:

  • I’m not any harder on others than I am on myself.
  • I’m harder on myself than anyone else ever is … and it’s never enough.
  • This is not rocket science. Why is it so difficult to find people to do their jobs?
  • I wouldn’t have these issues if I were allowed to hire my own people.
  • You say “perfectionist” like it’s a bad thing.
  • I wish everyone were like so-and-so (the one you are accused of having favoritism for).
  • I only want what’s best for everyone.
  • I yell at others that I am not angry.

At first glance, these belief systems seem rational, logical and part of the success formula for the high achiever … or are they? These belief systems actually hurt leaders because of their unintended consequences in their relationships at work and at home.

Ineffective belief system: Crack the whip

A leader’s job is not to whip employees into shape. Effective leaders do not have the mindset that if they can do it, anyone else can, or that it’s the leader’s job to push employees to their highest potential.

I’ll never forget my first year in my doctoral program. I took an internship on the East Coast with a prominent consulting firm and loved the fact that my nickname was “The Ice Queen of Attila.”

I had a reputation for cracking the whip, and I thought that was a good thing. My partner in charge pulled me into his office one day and asked why I was so tough on people. I answered that I was trying to make them into better people and that it was for their own good.

He thoughtfully retorted, “Did they ask you to make them better people?” That was an “aha” moment. I could be hard on myself to my heart’s discontent, but I had no right to make others miserable. Leadership by dictatorship went out with assembly lines.

Ineffective belief system: Perfectionism is a noble endeavor

The majority of leaders I’ve met are recovering perfectionists, and their ability to be effective was highly correlated with the level of recovery. As Steve Farber wrote, I too have the “dis-ease” of perfectionism, which robs me of the joy of accomplishment.1

On the one hand, the benefit of perfectionism is that I work very hard, I set and meet goals, and I get a lot done. But working 60 to 80 hours a week will take its toll on health, wealth and relationships, which usually throws the perfectionist to try even harder, and it’s never enough.

Picture a horizontal line where the left end is “zero” or “start” and the far right is “100 percent” or “finish.” High achievers are almost always at 88 percent. We tackle all goals/jobs/projects with gusto and get to the 88 percent yard line.

The 12 percent gap between where we are and the finish line is where we live. It’s where the tension is — what still has to be done, what isn’t finished and what is still wrong. The good news is it gives us the impetus to strive forward; the bad news is it’s where stress lives, and that anxious feeling will take its toll.

And then the straw that breaks the overachiever’s back is that if and when we do hit the 100 percent mark, we are off to the races on the next project/goal/activity and right back at the 88 percent mark.

What’s the lesson? We need to stand at the 88 percent mark and, instead of lamenting what still needs to be done, turn around to look at the 88 percent that has been accomplished, smile and say, “Wow, that’s great work,” to ourselves and others. We would reduce our stress by 88 percent and give ourselves and others the validation we/they crave.

Ineffective belief system: Leaders need smart people to execute

Every single one of my executive coaching clients has started with the same vent: “I don’t know why things have to be so difficult. It’s not rocket science — it’s common sense.”

My response has not changed. There is one place where pure logic prevails, where there are no politics, power plays, peripherally located egos, conflicts or miscommunication: the cemetery.

Where there are no people, there are no problems. Once my clients realize the dangers of practicing ineffective belief systems, they spend less time fighting the illogical, irrational part of organizational life and can allow for the natural human dynamics at work.

That takes 88 percent of the angst out of the situation; then, processes and plans can be made, which harness the great part of having humans at work: creativity, inspiration, collaboration, synergy and joy.

Consulting Psychologist Dr. Marissa Pei is the author of the newly-released title, “8 Ways to Happiness from Wherever You Are” that outlines eight ways to transition from sadness to being happy 88 percent of the time. Dr. Marissa has been speaking, coaching and facilitating to hundreds of Fortune 500 companies for nearly three decades. Find her book online at