The Mid-Career GPS Podcast

180: The Curse of Being a High Performer or High Potential

August 31, 2023 John Neral Season 3
The Mid-Career GPS Podcast
180: The Curse of Being a High Performer or High Potential
Show Notes Transcript

Are you a high performer or high potential in your professional life? Ever wondered if that label could actually be a curse in disguise? Let's unravel this paradox together. In this thought-provoking discussion, we unpack the hidden dangers that lurk behind these sought-after titles. We highlight just how these designations can lead to an unbalanced work-life situation, create unnecessary stress, and even hinder your professional growth. Listen closely, this conversation is a treasure trove of insights for both individuals and team leaders.

Moving forward, we dive into the murky waters of failure and its impact on those labeled as high performers or high potentials. Not only do we discuss how it can affect your self-worth but also why it's a part of the journey that we need to embrace. Hear me recount my experiences of teaching advanced mathematics to middle school students and how it shaped my understanding of this professional predicament. Get ready for a deep dive into the professional world's double-edged sword - the curse of the high performer or high potential.

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Speaker 1:

Hey friends, I'm doing a live webinar on Thursday, september 7th, at noon Eastern, called Three Strategic Steps to Land your Dream Job Before the Year Ends. This is a free webinar for anyone looking to find a new job, whether it be inside your organization or at a new company. The three steps I'll talk about will help you have greater intention and clarity as you navigate this ever-changing job market to position you more strategically, increase your visibility and leverage three strategies I know work. You can visit my website at johnnarrellcom forward slash webinar, check the show notes or on my LinkedIn page to secure your spot today. And if you can't attend live, don't worry, register anyway, as a replay will be available for all registrants. See you then. If you've ever been deemed a high performer or a high potential, you've probably experienced some pretty amazing points in your career. That being said, you've probably experienced some dramatically low or disappointing times in your career as well, because your success, which was once easy to achieve, got difficult. Well, you are not alone In this episode. I will help you understand the curse of the high potential or high performer and what you need to do for yourself, as well as for anyone on your team or inside your organization that might be suffering from this curse as well. Let's get started. Hello, my friends, this is episode 180 of the midcareer GPS podcast. I'm your host, john Narrell. I help midcareer professionals who feel stuck, undervalued and underutilized show up to find a job they love, or love the job they have, by using my proven four step formula. Typically on Thursdays it is an interview episode, but I'm a little bit behind after vacation and I've been banking some episodes for the next couple of months. Next week I'll have another great interview for you, but for now you get me twice this week. This whole idea about a high potential or high performer. I first became aware of this when I was teaching middle school mathematics, because many students right now are back at school and in the district where I used to teach, our students were academically tracked for English language arts and for mathematics. I had some classes which were quote unquote advanced classes, and these were students who had demonstrated proficiency in mathematics and they were doing math essentially a grade level or two above where they currently were. Well, what I learned during that time was that while some students were able to handle that kind of academic rigor, some weren't. In fact, for some of them, this was the first time that math got difficult for them, and for some it was a crushing blow to their self-esteem or to their self-image as a student that all of a sudden, what once was easy was no longer Well. Isn't it ironic that that same idea transfers to our professional lives as well? Sometimes we just aren't able to perform at the same level we used to. To help ground this conversation, I want to go through some definitions with you to help just put some greater context around this. By definition, a high potential is someone who has been identified in the organization as having a lot of possibility or potential for success. They are usually mentored or given training opportunities to benefit their career progression and value inside of the organization. A high performer, by definition, is someone who's been identified in the organization as being exceptionally productive and consistently delivers high-quality work. They are usually called on for special projects and assignments because of their professional brand, reputation and dependability. And if you're wondering, yes, you can be both. You can be both a high potential as well as a high performer. And while there are benefits of being identified as either or both, you need to be careful because those benefits can also be a curse. So if you have ever been labeled as a high performer or high potential, or you're managing and leading a team where some people on your team may be identified as such. Here are some things that I want you to consider about what I'm calling the curse of the high potential or the high performer. So the first is unrealistic expectations. Being labeled as a high potential or high performer can come with this pressure to constantly outperform or exceed expectations. Now, this can lead to burnout and stress in your workplace and in your job, as the person feels that they need to maintain this exceptional level of performance at all times. I remember working in one particular organization where somebody was tagged as a high performer, high potential. They were given additional responsibilities, but the supports were not in place for them to be successful. So now they move into this new role, they're struggling, they're challenged to try to keep their head above water, so to speak. They're getting overloaded. They don't know who they can turn to or who they can talk to. They don't have leaders and managers in place who are there actively checking in on them. And so what's their decision? Their decision is to leave, because it's that fight or flight syndrome, and now it's too hard. It's too difficult, so they're just going to go ahead and leave. They're going to start over somewhere else. Additionally, what happens, though, is that sometimes, these employees can develop a risk aversion, in other words, that their fear of failure can be so high that they don't want to jeopardize their reputation, and so what that looks like then is that they pull back or they withhold themselves from volunteering or accepting new challenges or innovative projects, because they don't want to fail. They have learned that stepping outside of their comfort zone is not a good thing. Another thing to consider and this is absolutely one of the curses about high potentials and high performers is that they may have limited development opportunities, so think about this If you're a high performer who are always being called on to pitch in, do extra work, pick up the slack on this project. It leaves little time for any kind of professional development or exposure to new projects and experiences, and this is one of those things that can often lead people to feeling very stuck or undervalued, because they're not given any additional opportunities. Furthermore, it can lead to isolation and resentment on the job, where they feel like they're kind of stuck on this island and they do this thing and they're not given any other opportunities elsewhere because the company has deemed them to be so valuable doing this. They don't want them doing anything else, so they never get promoted. They never advance because they're too valuable where they are. The other thing to consider here, though, is that this impacts your work-life balance. People who are deemed as high performers or high potentials are more than willing to take on that additional work, stay late to complete tasks, work weekends, and that can negatively impact their work-life balance as well as their professional and personal well-being. If you or someone you know is working more than 50 hours a week repeatedly, over and over and over again, chances are their work-life balance is all out of whack, and you have to decide whether or not you are checking in about them and seeing if there is any way to shift or allocate resources differently to help them get their work-life balance back. The next curse, if you will, is one that I can tell you I have personally experienced, and that is leadership pressure. People who are tagged as high potentials are often groomed for leadership positions. However, they are often thrust into these leadership roles without proper training or support, and that can lead to unnecessary or unwanted stress and potential failure if they are not adequately prepared. The phrase the honeymoon is over comes into play here, because think of the person who gets elevated into a leadership role and they're like you're good, you know what you're doing, you're going to be fine. We've heard all those things before. Right, you're going to be fine. All of a sudden, it gets difficult. If there are not proper supports in place and that person does not have the skills or capacity to manage up and have those kinds of conversations, they will fail. There is no other way for me to describe it. They will fail. This, in part, is due and this is where it is a management issue is due to a lack of feedback. If someone gets elevated in a role, there are some managers who might hesitate to provide constructive feedback for fear that it could demotivate them or lead to an underperformance. Rather than say anything at all, they're going to just let them figure it out. We know, without proper feedback, that work becomes difficult for these high potentials and high performers to achieve and they don't know how to identify what necessarily are those areas of improvement that are ultimately going to lead to their success. That piggybacks onto the next one. Oftentimes, high performers and high potentials have difficulty handling failure. They might struggle to actually cope with what they define as failure, because their self-worth and identity are closely tied to their successes. I remember seeing this in my students if they were the A student and they're taking an freshman level algebra class in eighth grade and now they're consistently getting Bs, they're thinking what's wrong? Or they get a C on a test or a D on an exam, what's wrong? If there are not proper supports in place, it can absolutely make it difficult or challenging for them to bounce back after such setbacks. And the larger issue when we talk about high performers and high potentials, we need to talk about identity. The curse of the high performer or the high potential is that it results in a loss of identity. Where this label of being this superstar, this great employee, that when they feel like they are not measuring up to their brand or their reputation, they start feeling less than and typically there are not supports in place for them at work to talk to someone about what it is on their team that they're feeling or experiencing. And so now work gets difficult. And when work gets difficult, what's going to happen? Well, they're either going to try to figure it out on their own, spending extra time, extra hours doing all the extra work. It's going to lead to them being burned out and ultimately, they're going to leave. What I want to offer you today is that if you are managing or leading someone on your team that is tagged as a high performer or high potential, you need to be checking in with them as much, if not more, than anybody else on your team. Yes, you need to be having a different level of conversation with them, but checking in is vital to their success. That ultimately leads to the organization's success. Without that, you are missing something you are doing, and what I firmly believe is an injustice and lack of service to them. You have elevated them into a role and you have left them to fail without those supports in place. Not everybody who is a high performer or high potential is capable of having those conversations, to manage up, to advocate, to speak up when things are more challenging or difficult. You need to keep that in mind, and if you yourself are deemed as a high performer or high potential, there is an opportunity there for you if the supports aren't in place, for you to figure out how to have an intentional conversation with your leadership and management about exactly what's working and what's not, even if that means saying to your supervisor I need more contact time with you and you. Canceling a check-in meeting with me repeatedly over the last month is not acceptable to me. I get it. Things may come up on your calendar, but I'm looking forward to that time with you for my growth and development. We need to have a better plan in place for rescheduling that time. I have said those things to my leadership. That is because of the relationship I have had with my leadership and my management and also because of me advocating for what it is that I need. You may not say it as directly, you may choose different language, but you are 100% responsible for your career. If you are a high performer and a high potential, you want to. If that label is important to you, you want to keep that moniker. But at the same time, make sure the supports are there because you have been deemed valuable, you continue to be valuable and you want to be valuable to your organization. Make sure those supports are there. All right, my friends, we're going to wrap up this episode right now, but a few things just to keep in mind. Don't forget. I have a free webinar available on Thursday, september 7th, called Three Strategic Steps to Land your Dream Job Before the Year Ends. You're going to get a ton of valuable information as you start navigating toward whatever is next for you and your career between now and the end of the year, so join me there. You can check the show notes, check my post on LinkedIn or check out my website, johnnarallcom forward slash webinar. While you're on the website, you can certainly take a look at the resources tab and any other free guides that I have there to download as well, and I hope today's conversation was helpful for you. So, with that in mind, remember this we build our mid-career GPS one mile or one step at a time, and how we show up matters. Make it a great rest of your day. Thank you for listening to the Mid-Career GPS podcast. Make sure to follow on your favorite listening platform and, if you have a moment, I'd love to hear your comments on Apple podcasts. Visit johnnarallcom for more information about how I can help you build your mid-career GPS or how I can help you in your organization with your next workshop or public speaking event, and don't forget to connect with me on LinkedIn and follow me on social at Johnnarall coaching. I look forward to being back with you next week. Until then, take care and remember how we show up matters. Thank you.