Dealing with the downsides of success

Written by
Isabelle Campbell

12 Jun 2017

12 Jun 2017 • by Isabelle Campbell

When we think about getting ahead in the workplace, certain terms spring to mind. We have a habit of picturing success as something which is often achieved by those people we consider to be ‘heavy hitters’: employees who encapsulate high levels of drive, determination and grit – people who can get along with others and are as well liked as they are hard working. 

Pursuing a high level of achievement at work is a fantastic and positive thing. However, there are circumstances in which the positive traits which drive us forward can turn into negative ones. This is an issue we must look to identify and prevent as it can damage our chances of success and potentially the chances of those around us too. 

Being goal-oriented can lead to resentment

A typical example of how positive traits can become negative is goal orientation. Goal orientated people are usually meticulous planners who clearly pave their routes to success with forward thinking: they enjoy planning, follow strict rules and don’t like missing key milestones they have mapped out for themselves. 

Possessing this trait obviously has a myriad of business benefits. However, being goal orientated and measuring success by the things you have achieved can also cause problems. When you are a focused planner who sets your sights solely (and often passionately) on your goals, you can often end up misunderstanding, underestimating or even resenting other colleagues who don’t operate in the same way.

This is where a positive characteristic can become negative, as comparison and resentment are two things which will often create friction with others. On top of this, the goal orientated person’s highly organised nature, which often involves roadmaps and linear approaches, means that they may not be particularly open to changes to set plans.  If another person disrupts this – it can be upsetting. There’s also a danger that this kind of approach can come across as micromanaging.

So, if you're goal orientated, how do you keep the balance between positive and negative? One way in which you can approach your working life is by reminding yourself – or, perhaps, others who are goal orientated – that it doesn’t actually matter how you get to the end goal as long as you get there. 

People take very different approaches depending on their individual nature, and their working styles may be at polar opposites with their peers. However, as long as everyone is consistently meeting their targets in a timely manner, there is nothing for the goal orientated person to worry about. Learn to let go of your own planning processes, and make room for the techniques of others to keep your potentially negative trait in check.

Perfectionism can result in stress

Perfectionism is another classic example of a supposedly positive trait which can be extremely damaging. This is particularly true for the person who is the perfectionist. From their perspective, what they produce will often fall short of their impossibly high standards. Even when they’ve achieved their goals to the standards they’ve set, perfectionists will immediately want to build upon them or seek new ones.

The danger of this trait is that there’s never an end point at which a perfectionist will be satisfied, as you'll often seek validation and success from external sources rather than from within. This means that there will always be something to strive for and something to improve on – as you will constantly be trying to make noticeable improvements to gain positive feedback and a sense of progression. This can lead to stress, burn out, and various other problems related to a relentless workload. 

However, it can also be problematic from a broader, group based perspective. In the workplace, if a manager or fellow team member is a perfectionist – can they ever be satisfied? If someone is their own harshest critic, that judgement will naturally radiate outwards towards others and they will judge other people by their own very high standards: that’s unfair on everyone involved and can be disruptive to building connections within a team in the first place. 

In order to balance the benefits of perfectionism – such as high quality work and high standards – with the potential pitfalls, learn to draw boundaries when it comes to your standards. Try and create feasible targets at the beginning of a project for all involved, to ensure you know when to draw a line and move on; and to help keep targets at a reasonable level for everybody. 

Empathy can impact business decisions

Empathy is an excellent trait to have: it often comes coupled with emotional intelligence, the ability to get along well with colleagues, and lends itself to getting the best out of people. However, empathy also comes with potential pitfalls. It can often get in the way of rational decision making, as it is so tied to the wellbeing of others and emotive tendencies.
If you're highly empathetic, it will no doubt impact upon your ability to make business decisions which need to be focused on efficiency. That’s not to say that an empathetic person can’t make difficult business decisions – however, there will likely be an internal conflict when it comes to doing so. This could impacts your wellbeing in terms of reviewing your choices and concerning yourself over how you'll be received and perceived by others. 

The other issue for empaths is wanting to make other people feel better about their own shortcomings, which may result in an empathetic manager playing down the severity of a colleague’s failings to make that person feel better. This can mean that the issues at hand are left unaddressed because the empath is trying to protect and look after the person making mistakes, perhaps at their own expense: for example, by not speaking up or whistle blowing when they should. 

To create a balance between the positive and negatives of this personality trait, learn to step back, assess situations in a more logical manner and try to marry a certain level of pragmatism to your kind hearted and optimistic natures. This will help you to to prevent this positive trait from becoming a negative one.

Awareness is key

Overall, when it comes to positive traits becoming negative, the key to prevention is awareness. Learn to recognise the boundaries at which your positive traits can become negative. Then, respond to any issues that arise from these characteristics by channelling those traits into sensible realities which work for the majority of your working teams.