Recently I tried to coach a young man in a country where individual achievement is not valued. His countrymen are team oriented and few people are concerned about individual success, setting goals or pursuing visions. These are core features of coaching but were of little interest to my coaching client.
In contrast, many of us are ambitious, success oriented and high achievers. We learn these values in our schools, families and often in our churches. But the same characteristics and behaviors that help us achieve can get in the way of the success that we desire. Consider the following from Harvard Business Review (June 2011). High achievers are:
- Action oriented and driven to get results. High achievers don’t let anything stop them but, in the process, relationships get pushed aside, self-care is ignored and there is little interest in delegating or mentoring others.
- Highly motivated and passionate about their work. These people are focused and often accomplish great things. But success can become too important, work can become a god, failure is devastating and life balance is forgotten.
- Competitive and craving for affirmation and positive feedback. An appetite for competition can be healthy, but sometimes achievers “obsessively compare themselves with others.” This can lead to a chronic sense of insufficiency, self criticism, and over-reaction to criticism.
- Committed to high standards. This valued attribute may lead to impossible expectations and guilt because our results are never good enough.
We may value and even teach skills and actions that make us successful in our careers, coaching or leadership. But even admirable traits can have a dark side. The disciples wanted to succeed but Jesus was critical when the push for greatness slipped into competition and self-centered efforts to get ahead (Matt. 20:20-28). Hard work is admirable but not if work dominates everything else and we forget the biblical mandate to work as though we were working for the Lord rather than for people (Col. 3:23). Greatness is good but we need the reminder that the greatest among us are servants, marked by humility (Matt. 23:11-12).
For you, when has a positive trait turned into something negative? What did you learn? Please comment.