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  • Writer's pictureMaria Wade

6 Tips: How to Stop Achieving for The Sake of Achieving

Updated: Dec 20, 2021

I bet that many of us if not all like these words and the idea behind them. Do you think that this phrase is wise and elegant in its simplicity? I think so. But have you ever considered how difficult it is to apply this wisdom to ourselves?

How many times in my own life have I set ambitious and sometimes crazy goals? Growing slowly was not enough for me. I even made my crazy goals measurable to epitomize the coaching genre. I set the bar high to prove myself and others that I am worth their trust, or praise, or a contract, or a project, or a high score, or love (you can continue). And at the moment when the goal was so close and achievable, I just moved the bar higher. What was that? Why did I do it again and again? Does it sound familiar?

Presenting the framework behind the Leadership Circle Profile (a 360° development assessment) at one of my classes, I was struck by an insight. The motivation behind my behavior fitted perfectly with one of three reactive dimensions – Controlling – that includes Perfect, Driven, Ambition, and Autocratic. Driven in particular became my main focus in this connection.

The Controlling dimensions measures the extent to which you establish a sense of personal security and worth through task accomplishment, personal achievement, power, and control. The LCP framework has a solid theoretical base; reactive dimensions are linked to the three personality types of Karen Horney, a great German psychoanalyst who practiced in the US. Horney described this type of behavior as aggressive (against people). These people tend to use superiority in intelligence, strength, and work ethic as some of their strategies that they exploit to ensure that safety will not be breached by hostile others.

I was not the only one who achieved in order to feel valuable or worthy. Many of the leaders who I coached reported that achievements were not a joy for them but rather a necessity. In fact, all of them were top performers, high achievers, and successful leaders. Many of whom suffered from incredible pressure of their own requirements and incredibly high standards that they set for themselves.

What does it mean? What do others see?

Leaders with high controlling tendencies see two kinds of people around themselves – winners and losers. To survive, their best chance is to become winners. They look bright, excel heroically, perform flawlessly, and even friends and loved ones normally overlook their frustration, longing for happiness, and lack of satisfaction with their achievements. Do you recognize yourself or your friends in people who compete, set high standards for themselves and the people around, push themselves and their teams to win, strive for perfection?

Why do people behave this way?

These types of behavior are dictated by the internal assumptions that organize one’s identity. You may assume that anything less than perfect is not enough, that you’re a valuable person when people look up to you with admiration, being less than others is unacceptable and threatens your security, failure on any scale can lead to your demise. Does it sound familiar to you? Do you believe that you have been hooked by your identity?

Why may it work well?

In fact, leaders of this type achieve at a very high level, deliver results, influence others and have a good work ethic as a strength of this style.

What is the cost?

This kind of leaders may not actually achieve that much. They are so preoccupied with winning and excellence that they start resenting this constant pressure to achieve. As a result, they procrastinate or do not perform up to their real potential. Also, if they link their security and worth to achieving and working hard, they have no time to develop others and often cannot think strategically.

And here, I would like to bring your attention to the fact that controlling is not an independent event. High scoring in controlling is inversely correlated with Leadership Effectiveness and as the result Business Performance. Controlling even may negatively impact achieving because you achieve results at the expense of building a sustainable high performance and high-fulfillment culture.

Now, when I have shared this with you, it is reasonable to ask what we can do about it. Moving from reactive to creative leadership styles is one of the most common requests for coaching in my experience. But if you are not quite ready for coaching yet, here's what you can do by yourself or with your buddy who can be your accountability partner.

6 tips on how to escape the trap of achieving for the sake of achieving:

  1. Make a list of all the things that you love about yourself that have nothing to do with achievements.

  2. Try to identify a deeper motivation for achieving. Figure out WHY you want to achieve.

  3. Get a clear understanding what you will accomplish when you achieve your goal.

  4. Redefine your idea of your worth. Define your worth on your own terms – look for your value inside out.

  5. Setting your next goal, keep in mind your vision and mission, think strategically.

  6. Even if we know that we live our stories that may have the very deep roots, re-write the end of your story, make it beautiful and courageous.

I will be very happy if you find my article helpful. Remember that I am here for you and eager to learn about your challenges, ideas, and aspirations. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Have you had an experience that you want to share?

*The article originally published on November 17, 2020 on LinkedIn.

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