The Challenges of High Achievement

Five Things to Bear in Mind when It Comes to High Achievers

(click below to view the video or read on if you’d prefer!)


happy at workHello and welcome to this ‘back to school’ edition of Career Tips 2014! I hope you have had the chance to relax over the summer months and have returned to your desk “full of beans” as my personal trainer says! During the summer, we took a break from tips to work hard and perform to consider, first, whether you are even reasonably happy at work and, second, how to create for yourself a supportive mental environment in the office so that you maintain a cool composure despite the many and frequent irritations inherent to any workplace.

In this month’s offering, we are going in yet an entirely different direction: I would like to chat with you about high achievers. It is my personal view that high achievers are bit of a unique breed in the office. I workedhigh achiever alongside many of them during my corporate career and many are clients nowadays. I consider that I was myself a high achiever. High achievers are unique in that they demand a lot of themselves but also of others. So this article is designed for those among you who consider yourselves high achievers – so that you may consider easing off a bit and enjoying your work life a tad more possibly – and for managers who have high achievers in their team – to offer some food for thought around how to adjust your style with this type of team member.

Thought #1: the “I need to be great” angle

What is fundamental about most high achievers is that their sense of fulfillment comes from excelling in a particular field. This makes for driven individuals greatwho are very results-orientated. A boon for their employer but a burden for these people who never stop to appreciate but look only forward.

Being task-focused means that high-achievers rarely have a sense of how they do what they do, as they focus instead of all that they’ve done and all that remains on their endless to-do list. Feel the pressure yet? This makes for people who are not connected to the value they bring. It’s like they think: “Who am I beyond my accomplishments? What are my values, my gifts?” High achievers typically hold themselves to very high standards. This is oppressive for them and those colleagues who collaborate with them.

So to you the high achiever, let me encourage you to find time to reflect on how you contribute and start pressurevaluing how you deliver, not just what you deliver. Employers pay for your results yes but also for how you get there. Know that and you will be able to better negotiate how you are rewarded.

To the manager of high achievers, how about adopting a coaching posture and, through well-angled questions, get them to reflect on all that they’re doing? Insight may lead them to release some of the pressure they heap on themselves.

Thought #2: the “I know better” syndrome

Not only are high-achievers results-orientated, but they are also rather self-centered. Not selfish, just self-absorbed as they capable of great I know betterconcentration. High achievers seek to impress with the quantity of what they do in addition to the quality of the finished product. This makes for quite a bit of tunnel vision and may seem less than a cordial attitude with team members. Their attitude seems to say: “keep off, I know it all!”

So to you the high achiever, let me encourage you to lift the nose up from your desk and notice what others are working on: could one of them help you finish your piece of work faster? In turn, could your skill help a babiescolleague deliver to an ever higher standard? Try a bit of give and take!

To the manager of high achievers, combat their natural tendency to be self-involved by forcing them to be part of a collaborative project. Sure, they won’t like it but, like little children have to learn to play without fighting and screaming, cooperating will teach your high achievers to get along!

Thought #3: the “what’s mine is mine” approach

Unsurprisingly, the task-focused, results-orientated, self-preoccupied high achiever usually exhibits a fair bit of controlling behaviour. To make sure they control the timing and quality of their deliverables, the best way is to be in charge of something from A to Z. Collaborating with others represents a risk: high achievers are therefore poor at team work and at delegating.

So to you the high achiever, in addition to the give and take I advocated above, how about considering this question: “What would it take to trust someone else with a piece of work?”

To the manager of high achievers, be mindful of the controlling tendencies of this kind of professional and pay attention to the risk that they may steamroll others in the team in their bid to deliver. Not only is this attitude is less than professional but it will also negatively brand the high achiever as arrogant and self-serving.

Thought #4: the “I’ll show you” motivation

Let’s recap, high achievers are driven by the desire to get things done, which means they put enormous pressure on themselves and risk burning out through sheer Stakhanovism. They have no interest in working with or through others as this could compromise their hold over their pridedeliverables as well as impact their great need for recognition. What we see emerging here is an identity which sees the self as solely an accomplisher. That’s what I call the “I’ll show” you motivation. By now, I should have you, the reader, rather dismayed by this high-achiever profile. Surely, you may think, who would want to be like that? And which manager would condone such behaviour?

Let me assure that many of us have some of the traits I have mentioned – to a greater or lesser extent. As I said upfront, I was a very high achiever. I still am – though I dialled myself down. And many organisations will encourage high achiever-type of conduct: after all, they get things done.

Linking to the articles on happiness at work which I shared with you earlier, despairlife for the high achiever is not very happy though it is punctuated by moments of exhilaration – but those are so brief.

So to you the high achiever, has that mirror which I am holding up for you to take a look at shown you a picture you are truly proud of? Might you consider opening yourself up to new ways of doing things in the office?

To the manager of high achievers, you may now be considering ways in which you will gradually “tame” your achievers as the price they and the team are paying for their efforts may overtime turn out to be not worth it.

Thought #5: the “I’m not weak” delusion

A bit more of a reflective offering this time around, isn’t it? weakNo real tips and techniques but rather I chose to raise the flag on what is effectively a myth: that success at work only comes to those who are high achievers and who are therefore willing to sacrifice themselves and others in the process.

The last nail in the coffin: by eschewing collaboration and delegation, high achievers also avoid getting advice and consulting others. Alone, they may struggle – unseen and unheard. In particular, they may be faced with complexity and they would benefit from others’ viewpoint. In addition, all this solitude is likely to mean that high achievers lack in soft, interpersonal skills.

So to you the high achiever, let me beseech you to stop and stare. Is it all worth it, this rat race? Sure, you are doing time outvery well I’m sure but how do you really feel about it? Might you be feeling trapped in a mode which is sucking the life out of you? How do your friends, family – your loved ones – feel about it? Do they seem to be missing (out on) you?

To the manager of high achievers, be compassionate towards those apparently really “hard-core” people who seem immune to the cares of the world save their own work deliverables.

There you have it: a few thoughts about those people we and they themselves label “high achievers”. Is it really a badge of honour? Remember, every medal has two sides. If I have seemed harsh in my depiction, it is only to draw your attention to the risks which an ingrained, recurrent behaviour of high achievement represents for the individual and those around them at work.

As always, if you have any question or comment or want to discuss your personal circumstances, you are welcome to email me by clicking here.

If this article resonated with you, don’t hesitate to contact me for a chat where we would explore what is going on for you and what you would like to have happen. To contact me, click here.

If you don’t have it already, get your copy of “5 Gear Shifts to Accelerate your Career!” and learn about the five building blocks of any successful career! Get it here now!

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