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Are you a Pacesetting Manager


Chris Gulliver

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According to a report by Scott W Spreier, Mary H Fontaine, and Ruth L Malloy, in the Harvard Business Review overachievers tend to set an impossible pace for the team they work with and it can be both demotivating and unproductive. Sheer drive and determination are admirable qualities, but a relentless focus on tasks and goals can damage overall performance. Overachievers tend to command and coerce, rather than coach and collaborate, which is very stifling for their staff – they also tend to take shortcuts, fail to communicate important information and are oblivious to the concerns of others. Doesn’t sound very attractive does it?

Apparently, many talented leaders have crashed and burned as they put ever more pressure on their employees and themselves to produce. The classic overachiever is driven by results regardless of how they are achieved; often pitting manager against manager in an effort to improve performance, but this isn’t a sustainable regime.

The late Harvard psychologist, David McClelland, identified achievement (meeting or exceeding a standard of excellence or improving personal performance) as one of three internal drivers that explain how we behave. The other two are affiliation (maintaining close, personal relationships) and power, which involves being strong and influencing or having an impact on others. His research showed that all three motives are present to some extent in everyone. Although we are not usually conscious of them, they give rise in us to needs and concerns that lead to certain behaviours. Meeting those needs apparently provides a sense of satisfaction and energizes us, so we keep repeating the behaviours, whether or not they result in the outcomes we desire.

One overachiever, who worked for a successful brewing and pub organisation that put a premium on results, found himself becoming increasingly aggressive and demanding in an effort to exceed expectations. It was a fellow colleague who pointed out that he was quite a nice guy when he wasn’t working – so what was his problem? He decided to get his management skills assessed and started by examining the activities he liked and why.

  • He likes challenging projects and to outperform people who represent a high standard of excellence.
  • He is energized by personal relationships – he likes group activities and makes good use of the ‘phone and e-mail.
  • He likes to feel strong and important – a fast car, a nice house, sharp clothes, dining at the right club with the right people, etc.
  • He likes to teach and gets satisfaction from helping people to feel stronger and more capable. He would have liked to have been a teacher or a politician.

Having recognised that he had an overactive drive to achieve, the challenge was to figure out how he could channel all this positive energy into new behaviours. His first step was to ask his team, peers and managers to give him honest feedback, much of which was unexpected and quite difficult to swallow. However, with coaching, he began to adopt new behaviours:

  • Rather than issue directives, he engaged his team in discussion of how to achieve the goals.
  • He made an effort to listen and not jump to conclusions.
  • He curtailed his passion to sort problems in favour of coaching people to come up with their own solutions and plans.
  • He learnt to say ‘how can I help’ rather than ‘here’s what you’ve got to do.’

Chris Gulliver from LeaderShape commented: “With help, everyone can learn to change their behaviours and build a stronger and more successful team around them. Overachievers are often very charismatic, perhaps even daunting, but even pop stars, politicians and sportsman need the support of others. When you create an impossible pace, you face the prospect of losing talented and valuable people”.

About the Author

Chris Gulliver is a Director of LeaderShape Ltd. As a director of LeaderShape Ltd and currently coaches and mentors chief executives and their top teams, either individually or in peer groups. Chris is also a UK Director of the European Mentoring & Coaching Council. Visit for more details.

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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2010-01-14 14:17:07 in Employee Articles

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