High-achievers are quick to figure out the rules. These are the people who breeze through school because they take the time to dissect what teachers are looking for. These people might do the same thing when obtaining an entry-level position and work their way up the ladder until they’ve obtained a leadership position. But then the rules change–because there are no rules.
The challenge for high-achievers is that they’ve often linked their self-esteem and self-worth, to achievement of a goal. As a model for development, that link can be a powerful motivator and is often used to propel one forward. But whenever one is asked to lead, they are often confronted with more unknowns and more uncertainty than they’ve ever had to face. Then, when these unknowns undermine the perception of success, the high-achieving leader often faces a profound loss of self-confidence and, worse, loses an internal sense of self-worth.
As I discuss in my new book, , leadership doesn’t come with a roadmap. Every leadership position is unique, so you can’t just figure out the game and play accordingly. That’s exactly what most high-achievers try to do, and when it doesn’t happen, they begin to panic. It’s not uncommon to see a high-achieving leader pack too many things into a daily schedule with the goal of trying to attain a feeling of accomplishment.
Instead of slowing down and figuring it out, these people will speed up and do more faster and faster with the hopes of achieving something or tricking themselves into feeling important (e.g., as though they’re getting the job done when, in fact, they’re avoiding the job entirely). The need to “tick the box” is strong in individuals who want to achieve goals but cannot.
The feeling of being busy can mimic the feeling of worthiness though the two are, in fact, unrelated. Instead, this creates an addictive busy-ness which, perversely, makes us feel worse. We can never be busy enough to feel worthy enough.
There’s a corollary to this in that we often use busy-ness as a mask. If we slow down, then we might actually have to face whatever it is we are running from. Of course, every wisdom tradition I’ve encountered ultimately teaches the same thing: slow down and face the demons. Even though a map will not present itself, slowing down allows us to ask the tough questions and determine what it is we are really scared of.
In the case of a terrified over-achieving leader who has never stopped to face those demons, slowing down is vomit-inducing. But it’s also the only way to figure out how to lead without putting unnecessary stress on team members. The wisdom many of us admire in others comes from knowing oneself first. When you know what you are scared of and why, you can confidently make decisions from a position of calm steadiness. Tranquility doesn’t happen in a too-busy world that never stops spinning.
The beauty of slowing down to face those demons is that you can then choose the life you want. Each choice can be a conscious one that is decided from a place of reflection rather than panic. Life happens to you when you’re too busy to stop and think, but you can make conscious choices when you finally stop.
High-achievers should spend time asking themselves the difficult questions so that when it’s time to lead, they can do so from a place of calm reflection and wisdom without the need to pack too much into a schedule. They can do this knowing that there aren’t always clear answers, but not having an answer is part of the leadership path.
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