Why do so many amazingly talented people not live up to their true potential?
Why do high achievers struggle with their mindset and breaking through next level barriers?
A few years ago, I read an excellent Harvard Business Review article called the Paradox of Excellence which illustrated this phenomenon around how high achievers often let performance anxiety actually derail their forward progress. It got me thinking about how I can help you remove some of the cognitive constraints that may hold you back.
(click here or the play button below to listen to this post)
If you’ve had success in the past and are one of those high achievers, you will completely understand what I am talking about. The other day, I discussed the comfort zone and making tough decisions. We often shy away from pushing their comfort zone and taking on new projects that will truly test their abilities. This may come from:
- Our inherent vulnerability
- The need to preserve our image and ego
- The desire to maintain control
Because of this need (fear) to control and maintain ego, often high achievers refuse to stretch, won’t ask for help, and are willing to risk their own personal development. Does this sound familiar to you?
“Many high performers would rather do the wrong thing well than do the right thing poorly.”
The HBR article outlines some characteristics of a typical high achiever.
- Driven to get results. Achievers don’t let anything stop them. But they can get so caught up in tasks, that providing transparency to colleagues or helping others feels like a waste of valuable time.
- A doer. Achievers believe, often rightly, that nobody can do it as well as they can. That can make them poor delegators—or micromanagers.
- Highly motivated. Achievers take all aspects of their jobs seriously. But that means they often fail to distinguish between the urgent and the merely important.
- Craving of positive feedback. Achievers care intensely about how others view their work—but they tend to ignore positive feedback and obsess over criticism.
- Competitive. An appetite for competition is healthy, but achievers obsessively compare themselves with others, which can lead to a chronic sense of insufficiency, false calibrations, and ultimately career missteps.
- Passionate about work. Intense highs can give way to crippling lows. For achievers, it’s a fine line between triumph and agony.
- A safe risk taker. Achievers aren’t likely to recklessly bet the company on a risky move, but they may shy away from the unknown.
- Guilt-ridden. Achievers are driven to produce, but no matter how much they accomplish, they feel like they aren’t doing enough.
The article gives some great advice on how to deal with this issue, such as putting the past behind you and using your support network, but the best suggestion was:
High Achievers need to become more vulnerable
The biggest lesson I’ve learned personally in the past few years is that it’s okay to be vulnerable. In fact, to stretch and grow, you should absolutely spend some time learning to be vulnerable. The ability to ask for help, admit you don’t understand something, and confessing mistakes should be a set of values that high achievers completely embrace.
A few things happen when you embrace vulnerability:
1) Mental freedom:
You free up excess mental space in your head because you remove the worrisome thought patterns. It’s liberating to not have to always be perfect. By allowing yourself to admit when you don’t know something, or apologize for an action, you remove that entire secondary game we all play in our heads to try and protect ourselves from danger and you actually regain focus on what matters.
“Almost without exception, overwhelming feelings of insecurity are in our own minds.”
2) Empowerment of Others:
Sometimes it’s tough to be vulnerable because it could perhaps feel like a selfish thing. So make it about how you can help others!
High achievers have others that look up to them. When you don’t show any weakness, you perpetuate an inauthentic concept of perfection and actually cause others to have increased anxiety. The best leaders or speakers demonstrate their vulnerability in some way. And when they do, their audience becomes more free as well. Lead by example. If you are a high achiever, it is most likely that your peers are also high achievers. Take the bold step of being vulnerable and send a powerful message to your peers – inviting them to do the same.
3) Faster Innovation:
To innovate properly, you need to be willing to take risks and TRY new things. By removing the vulnerability factor, you unleash yourself to try AND fail while being happy in the moment. Granted, high achievers take calculated risks, but when you remove the fear, you create faster innovation that is unencumbered by fear and ego.
4) Healthier Collaboration:
When you lead others and demonstrate your vulnerability you create an atmosphere of honest dialogue with more deeper, meaningful conversations. Just like in any relationship, admitting you don’t know something or that you are wrong actually is a sign of strength. Be able to say to an analyst, “I’m sorry, but this is not a comfortable area for me – could you explain those terms and go slower?” Or “I’m not getting this – could you please explain again the product you’ve created?”
Allow yourself and those around you to speak freely. Only from this kind of true effective communication can you build a REAL baseline. From there, you have the right place to begin growth and development.
When the environment is one of posturing and false identities, you never quite know where people stand. Create a new normal where people feel safe to discuss the real issues, ask genuine questions, and be true to themselves. Imagine the possibilities when your meetings are predicated on absolute trust. And be grateful when others show vulnerability. You have successfully created a cultural shift.
Forget about your ego and be more vulnerable. If you are looking for motivation, make it a priority as high achievers to develop THAT as a new skill. If you want some actionable steps, click on this post about moving through insecurity. Be the BEST at being vulnerable.
I am going to continue further with this topic in the next few weeks with more insights for high achievers. I would love to know what areas you struggle in and the topics that are near and dear to your heart. email me at joe@changegrowachieve with your thoughts.