In my twenty years of coaching leaders, I have seen countless behaviors that can keep a person from staying productive at work.

But there's one specific toxic trait that will surely strip you of your joy and vitality, kill collaboration, and send your best people packing.


Perfectionism silently stifles productivity by showing up in self-defeating thought patterns that are pretty easy to recognize in yourself, if you're willing to self-diagnose.

So let me ask you, have you ever been labeled a "perfectionist"? As if you're going to admit that, right? Seriously, though, you know yourself best. Do you consider yourself to be one? How will you know?

Well, if you've gotten this far, chances are you're probably curious enough to know if you are one, or you already know that you are one, and you want to stop!

To find out, look for these ten toxic traits of perfectionism showing up in your actions:

1. Your goals or standards are too high.

They're so high, in fact, they are often unrealistic. If you can't be the very best, you sometimes give up.

2. You see any mistake as a failure.

If someone does something better than you, you feel that you've failed. You might also conceal your mistakes from others. There's some shame rooted in this that you will need to unpack.

3. You feel uncomfortable in your own skin.

This especially happens whenever you don't achieve your definition of perfection.

4. You don't like taking risks.

Because if you do, there is no guarantee you can do the task or solve a problem perfectly. So you end up sticking with safer tasks because you know you can get them done.

5. You are obsessed with results, results, results.

You don't enjoy the process of learning and working, trying new things, or considering other people's ideas. You only care about the result.

6. You often exhibit all-or-nothing thinking.

Basically, either something is perfect, or it's a failure.

7. You don't handle criticism and feedback well.

This comes from having an unhealthy attachment to others' opinions. You feel that if your flaws are exposed, others will reject you.

8. You apply your own unrealistic standards to those around you.

When others don't meet your expectations, you become critical of them. As a result, it may be hard to keep good relationships with people who will trust you.

9. You don't delegate.

Since you worry about other people not doing the task "as perfect" as you, you have a difficult time delegating away tasks to people who may actually be as competent as you.

10. You procrastinate.

By worrying about doing something imperfectly, you become immobilized and fail to do anything at all! This leads to more feelings of failure, and now you're caught in a vicious cycle.

The solution.

OK, reality check: Did you nod yes to some of the points above? If you did, don't be too concerned. I have good news -- if you're willing to make some positive changes.

1. Set realistic goals.

Come up with several long-term goals --one to five years -- and then break these down into yearly, quarterly, monthly, and even weekly goals. It can feel great to complete smaller goals along the path so it doesn't feel like you're staring up at Mt. Everest.

2. Listen to your emotions.

If you're feeling anxious, scared, or stressed about a decision, ask yourself whether you've set the bar too high. Your emotions may be telling you that you're trying to hit an unrealistic target, which may lead to self-sabotage.

3. Don't fear mistakes.

Look at your mistakes as a part of your evolution, which can provide tremendous learning experiences. But first, you need to have the courage to examine them; so learn from each mistake you make. You'll grow as a result. I love this quote from  Elbert Hubbard:

"The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one."

4. Readjust your personal rules.

Identify one rule you live by that's rigid, unfair, or unhelpful. Now reword it to be more helpful, flexible, and forgiving. What does your rule now state?

Your helpful, flexible and forgiving new rule: _____________________

5. Watch black-and-white thinking and words.

Be careful of using black-and-white thinking or verbalizing these thoughts; it will often lead to unrealistic expectations. Ask yourself, "Am I thinking in terms of extremes?"

Some examples are, "My team needs me. I must never make mistakes," or, "If we don't deliver on budget, the whole project will fail."


As a leader, it's really important you understand that perfectionism can rob you of a productive life and of your creativity. It can also lead to various health problems (and even death), according to the latest research.