My name is Moyra Mackie and I’m a recovering perfectionist.

Perfectionism is rightly described as a life-stealer

Even though I know that perfection is not possible, it is one of my Drivers. I hear the siren call of perfectionism whenever I’m under pressure.  This might be a tight deadline when I’m tempted to research one more fact or fine tune (again) the design of a slide deck or report.  Or it might be when I’m facing a stressful situation like negotiating a contract, presenting to a large audience or going to a networking event.

The upside of attempting to be perfect is that I will prepare.  Really, really well.  The downside is that I will over-work or become paralysed by doubt and fear or hyper critical of myself and others.

“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”
Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

We all have Drivers (and potential life-stealers) 

The clinical psychologist, Dr Taibi Kahler, developed a framework to show that we have five common Drivers  that motivate us:

  • Please Others
  • Be Perfect
  • Be Strong
  • Hurry Up
  • Try Hard

The other day, when I was describing these Drivers, a coaching client declared:  “sounds like my childhood.”

And she‘s right.  Drivers can best be described as our “early years programming”. Even before we can talk, we start to figure out what will get the attention and approval of the care givers and authority figures in our lives.

Fast or slow, as a group or on your own, active or reactive?

Here you can see that there are three main axes that help to define our Drivers; a preference for being with people or being alone, a desire for speed or patience and a preference for acting or reacting.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these Drivers.  After all, they help us get out of bed in the morning and drive us to persist and succeed.  

However, when we over-rely on them you can see that, whatever our preferred style, we end up getting the opposite of what we set out to achieve.

We all tend to have at least two of these Drivers underlying our interactions and it’s likely that each of us relies on them to different degrees for different reasons.  This is why I have given each Driver a colour, as I think that we have our own individual palette of Driver responses that makes us who we are.

Or at least who we have been programmed to be.


How our drivers are strengthenedHow our Drivers are strengthened

Adversity and stress can lead us to depend on one Driver more than others and to subconsciously believe that this response, which may have helped us once, will always be the right way of reacting.

Consequently we rely on this way of reacting to an excessive degree whenever we feel challenged or under stress, which can lead to overdrive and burnout.

We don’t leave our Drivers at home

At work our priorities, our notions of what constitutes a “good job,” a “nice person,” a “team player” or a “good leader” will be informed by our own Drivers.  As a coach, I frequently hear people say that others don’t “share their values”, when what they really mean is that their Driver Styles are in opposition.

Organisations are groups of people who need to talk to each other

In my role as coach and consultant, I help individuals and teams figure out how to work better together.  When teams are not working well, it helps to surface some of our unconscious or unspoken beliefs about belonging to a group.

As you consider the questions below, can you spot which Driver style underpins each choice of action?

When you are given a challenging assignment at work, how do you respond? 

Do you immediately think about who you can co-operate with to get the necessary information on the WHAT or helpful guidance on the HOW of this task?

Or do you find a quiet place to work and research, pushing yourself to have all the answers and come up with the perfect solution?

As the deadline looms, do you reach out to check what is essential to complete the assignment or do you keep searching for more information or a better way to present what you have?

We can learn new ways of responding, rather than reacting

How we tackle tasks tells us a lot about what is driving us – what we think “success” looks like and how we should go about achieving it.

Realising that what got us here, won’t get us there is the first step.  Learning to value other ways of working and recognising the limits of our default way of reacting is the next step.

Drivers directly affect how we manage our time, how we view collaboration or overdrive and burnout we favour.

Our reactions are learnt behaviour and we can choose to learn to respond in a different way.

We can claim our lives back.


How I can help

If you would like to learn new ways of responding, join me and other participants in November at my Campfire Conversation, a gathering for people-pleasers, procrastinators and serial over-thinkers. It’s a facilitated quality conversation around a campfire. You will go away less-stressed, inspired to make changes, and feel better connected. What’s more, you’ll leave truly committed to taking action on things you’ve been putting off or avoiding.

I would highly recommend journal writing. I joined one of Moyra’s journal safari sessions a couple of weeks ago and have been keeping a daily journal ever since. The main benefits for me is it’s helped me to keep perspective in these times, not to be too hard on myself and be thankful for the things I have achieved.

Justin Ellis

Innovation & Strategy, British retail bank