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Confidence and perfection

Confidence comes from honesty, not perfection.


When you’re talking to a new prospect, pitching a product, or presenting at a conference do you do everything you can to perform perfectly and keep any flaws hidden away? It’s a natural approach, but is it the best route to instil confidence?

Simon and Garfunkel might not seem like natural voices on business, but when they sang “And I know I’m fakin’ it, I’m not really makin’ it” they had a point.

In a time of fake news and a lack of trust – authenticity and honesty trump perfectionism.

David Ogilvy captured this in Confessions of an Advertising Man:

“I always tell prospective clients about the chinks in our armor. I have noticed that when an antique dealer draws my attention to flaws in a piece of furniture, he wins my confidence.”

Here are three things to consider…

Clients value honesty

If you’re trying to cover things up, over-promising, or offering services you can’t really provide, it doesn’t work. Strong and trusted relationships come from authenticity. And authenticity comes from being honest about the capabilities of your team, your capacity to deliver projects, and the results you will deliver.

To build lasting relationships with clients you need to be honest and open to your client’s honesty too:

Manage expectations

Make sure you’re all on the same page about deliverables, deadlines and responsibilities. Two-way communication is key – make sure your clients know their feedback is not just welcomed but vital in the process. Always be willing to listen and try to take feedback as learnings and not criticism.

Own your challenges

If something hasn’t gone smoothly or if a project is tricky show up, name the challenges and own them. Trust isn’t born from sweeping things under the carpet or letting niggles fester till they become unsurmountable.

Use feedback to grow

Client feedback is gold. Ask for it, when things go well, and badly. Use it to improve your processes, to inspire better ways of working, help your team to grow and deliver more value for your clients.

Your team will feel confident to deliver

If the expectations of clients are realistic and based on open and trusted relationships your team will feel confident to deliver. If you’re asking them to deliver perfection – for you or your clients – you’re setting them up to fail. The constraints of perfectionism will breed a cautious and wary approach, a culture of honesty and authenticity will empower your team to try new things, collaborate more and not be afraid to fail.

If you project a picture of perfection, you’ll also risk incentivising a culture where mistakes, errors or challenges are brushed over or not talked about. This reduces the teams ability to learn and can create a higher level of fear. All of which reduces quality, connection and output from the organisation.

Make vulnerability your strength

And we can take inspiration from Ogilvy on a personal level too, our ‘flaws’ aren’t going to trip us up, derail our progress, or make us look like bad leaders.

Being honest and embracing your vulnerability can make your relationships and your leadership stronger.

And as Brené Brown says: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” To make progress, to take on challenges, to be creative or inventive all include an element of risk and subjecting yourself to uncertainty.

Authenticity breeds success

Whether it’s clients, your team or your life away from work perfectionism hampers success. Learn to embrace the flaws, the chinks in the armour, and have open and honest conversations. That’s where growth can begin, authenticity takes root and confidence authentically emerges from – in you, your products, and your business.