By: Paula Davis-Laack October 21, 2016
Ambition can have a negative connotation for people in business, especially for women, but it’s a necessary quality for success in the modern day workplace. The key is to harness your ambition into something sustainable that builds your success rather than undercuts it. Ambition run amok undercuts your resilience, can cause you to miss burnout warning signs and may even interfere with your ability to recognize good professional risks. Harvard Business School professor, Dr. Thomas DeLong, describes 10 traits that can cause driven professionals to stall and hit a wall. They are as follows:
- Getting stuck in repetitive tasks:High achieving people are driven by challenging tasks that push them, but if work becomes tedious or repetitive, you can become unmotivated or feel like you’re falling behind your peers.
- Knowing what is urgent vs. just important:When I was practicing law, a client of mine used to categorize the priority of his projects with this three-tiered system: nuclear, super-nuclear, and catastrophic. I laugh as I write this because I still don’t know what distinguishes one from the other. By the end of my law career, though, I could no longer distinguish between tasks that were just important and those that were urgent – I perceived everything as urgent.
- Trouble delegating:High achievers tend to have the highest standards for themselves and others. As a result, you may hate delegating because it takes a certain amount of vulnerability to hand over a task and trust that it will be completed to that same high standard.
- Transitioning to managerial roles:According to DeLong, high achievers worry that if they give up their technical expertise for a managerial role they may lose their ability to do the work. Many high achievers are selected for managerial roles because they have shown that they are good at producing, which does not necessarily mean they will make good leaders. As a result, you might find the transition difficult and either micromanage or continue to be an individual contributor while you learn the ropes.
- Difficult conversations:Even though I teach people how to communicate assertively, it’s still tremendously difficult to for me to be vulnerable and sit with the uncomfortable feelings that I know will result from having a difficult conversation. But, here’s why it’s important to have these conversations: Recently, two former business colleagues decided to develop a business opportunity without me. That would have been just fine, but they elected not to loop me in on their decision, and I found out about their venture via social media. As a result, any trust that was built among us has now been permanently severed.
- Responding poorly to feedback:DeLong suggests that even though driven professionals crave feedback, they don’t always respond well to it, particularly when it’s negative. That is due in part because high achievers rarely hear bad feedback about their performance.
- Thinking you’re either highly successful or a major failure:DeLong states that when high achievers feel as though they have been less than successful, they can swing from feeling responsible and successful to feeling like complete failures. When you feel like a failure, you can become hypercritical of not only yourself but just about anything (and anyone) else in your life.
- Comparing:The large law firm I worked at publicly published all of the billable hours each attorney accrued. Each person’s hours were there in black and white and included our names. So, naturally, when the report was released each month, the first thing I did was compare myself to the other high producers in the firm. If I had a good month, then all was right in the world; if my hours happened to be lower than usual, then see item no. 7 above.
- Taking only safe risks:You need to succeed at challenging tasks to get ahead, but your own fixed mindset can prevent you from taking good risks because you don’t want to look dumb. According to research by Dr. Carol Dweck and her colleagues, people with fixed mindsets think that ability (intelligence, for example) is fixed or static and therefore incapable of being developed beyond what already exists. This leads to a desire to look smart, avoid challenges where your smarts might be questioned, and giving up easily.
- Feeling guilty:Practically every woman I know feels guilty about something in their lives, especially working moms. When you have too much on your plate, you have to pick some roles and tasks over others. The result is that other things get ignored and this triggers that annoying little voice that says you are letting yourself or others down.