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High Achievers, Beware!

High achievers in organisations are proactive, focused on outcomes and deliver. They are valuable contributors. As with most things, though, there are downsides to an overused strength.


I met a few high achieving people recently and listening to their challenges, they sounded like ones I’ve heard from other high achievers. It is useful to recognise the downsides so we can consciously address them rather than being a victim to our high achiever quality. Here are a few to watch out for:


Controlling too much: While holding high standards may be valuable, controlling everything and everyone to do things our way can disempower others. In the long run, it will become increasingly difficult to meet the high standards if you try to control the ‘how’ too much.


Having all the answers: Knowing too much is problematic in several ways. We may be making assumptions and not really understand the issue (ie. so we could be wrong!). We may come across as correcting others or being critical. We can also create a dependency such that people always come to you for answers or to fix problems.


Doing things that others should be doing: Worse still, trying to control too much or having the answers can lead to taking over the work as well. Especially when deadlines are looming. This is a sure fire recipe for an overworked high achiever.


Overcommitting: Being overly optimistic on our ability to deliver in a certain timeframe can add even more pressure. High achievers tend to be rather optimistic and overcommit, saying “I should be able to manage” in their heads. It adds more pressure to control and/or do it all ourselves.


Overstressing: High achievers can get overly stressed about NOT achieving. This can lead to controlling, directing, doing all the work and overcommitting. It’s a vicious cycle.


Not stopping to reflect: High achievers are often action driven. We feel good when we’re in action and we’re busy. The downside is that we could get stuck in a pattern and not realise the costs. It’s critical that we pause, reflect and adjust.


While I’m not saying we shouldn’t be high achievers, it is helpful to be more conscious of the unintended consequences of how we behave as a high achiever. We may be setting up a system where high achievers are overworked and not-so-high-achievers don’t grow or are not given the opportunity to thrive.


Organisations thrive when everyone can contribute their talents, not just the select few (Please see a related article “Let’s stop the war for talent”). High achievers can enable more people to thrive with them.

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