The Top Three Strengths That Hold Back High Performers
You’re a high performer. You excel at new endeavors and you thrive on the recognition that comes with exceeding expectations. You are incredibly driven and when you set a goal for yourself, you very rarely veer off it until you have achieved exactly what it is you have set out to do. Rings a bell?
Because you are such a high performer, you have incredible self-awareness so you know that behind every single one of those strengths, a dark side is lurking. Here are responses from over forty interviews I conducted with self-identified high performers. I compiled the top three strengths they identified along with their dark side, and suggestions to help you move forward when you are in transition.
Remember that this means being prepared to act differently so you can fully transform and grow.
1) Commitment to success
Each person I interviewed described success in their own way (financial, building community, etc.) and each of them proudly boasted about their drive and internal motivation. Danielle Rothman, Modern Calligraphy Artist and Teacher, Founder of Rothbyrns Creative summed up the feeling best when she declared: “I experience incredible growth and change quickly: I don’t rest on my laurels! Let’s move forward!”
The problem? Most high performers are reluctant to take their hands off the wheel. They need to feel in control because their success is often measured by external factors. They might also be held back by a deep fear of judgment: not from others, but rather, from themselves. When in transition, there is anxiety driven by doubt and uncertainty. We are faced with the unknown. In this situation, high performers’ motivation often translates as unrealistic expectations and underestimating the time needed to achieve a successful transition. They also talk about the intense pressure they feel to constantly achieve higher levels of success and this holds them back because they cannot face being seen as unproductive.
What to do?
Find the right partners - those who complement your own strengths and with whom you operate on an equal intellectual level so you can rely on them when you need to take time for yourself.
Pause to take in the situation and find areas where you could relinquish some power so you can go within and reflect.
Consider the impact of your involvement in a project when you are in transition: are you holding on to something and therefore, not creating the space for the new to emerge? Are you simply looking for the recognition and not letting yourself take a risk because of the possibility of “failure”?
2) Endless Creativity
What a gift! To have a constant stream of ideas flowing through you, to see each encounter or discovery as an opportunity… the possibilities are endless! High performers dream big, they are outstanding problem-solvers and they are visionaries.
The problem? Stephen Sainato, Transformational Coach, former corporate attorney, and law school Valedictorian puts it this way: “The idea fairy visits me regularly and I feel this strong desire to bring theideas I genuinely believe in to life... all at once. But it’s simply not possible to do everything at once. I (with my coach's help) bring myself back to 1 thing. Okay, 2-3 things!”
There are so many choices that we’re not sure where to start. It can be incredibly overwhelming and cause high performers to freeze after they have been through a process of transition. They are not sure which door to open. Some mentioned that they get excited about the next new idea rather than focusing on sustainability and as a consequence, feel guilty for not following through with anything.
What to do?
When choosing what to concentrate on, consider what truly matters to you by asking yourself whether the project is in line with your values, rather than thinking about the long term. In times of transition, it is nearly impossible to focus on the long term.
Allow yourself to explore and enhance your creativity even further by trying out new avenues: opening different doors will allow you to gather clues as to what the next project is. Go wide, not deep.
Sit with each idea for a little while before starting to work on it. If you still feel strongly about it after a few days, start making small moves and exploring it.
3) Grit and Tremendous Capacity for… well, for everything!
High performers are resilient and have stamina. They can work through the day, meet their friends regularly, go to the gym, look after the kids if they have them and say YES! Everyone wonders how they do it, and them, well… they just do it!
The problem? They have little time for themselves, and they rarely say no. Setting boundaries can be tough because they want to please those they work with or those who are close to them and they want to make sure that they hold space for everyone and everything. However, when we are in transition, it’s necessary to take time to go within and connect to ourselves as we are shedding the layers of identity that previously defined us..
What to do?
Gesche Haas, founder of Dreamers // Doers, a highly curated private members collective for the most value-driven female founders, trailblazers and change-makers talks about having “the discipline to invest in yourself”. This could mean taking the time to do the things you love, or learning something new. It’s simply about thinking about… YOU!
Be selfish! If you can, get away from everything and everyone for a while. If you can’t, create time for yourself on your calendar and respect it.
Choose the counterintuitive move: pause. It’s hard, it creates anxiety… yet, it’s a necessary step of the transition process.
The final piece of advice comes from all those I interviewed - the gift of independence can be a hindrance. High performers must surround themselves with those who can support them and accept their help. One way to do this is to join communities or groups of other transitioners. Sharing experiences and learning from others is often eye-opening and allows us to reflect on our own situation.
Here is one more question for high performers: What if the success you’ve had so far had happened despite the way you’ve been working rather than thanks to it? In the words of Marshall Goldsmith, “What got you here won’t get you there” and to continue to grow exponentially, high performers might need to change a thing or two.